CANTON, Ohio — Mick Tingelhoff had Fran Tarkenton's back in the fledgling early days and in some of the brightest glory days of the Vikings franchise.
The support the center provided to the quarterback was constant on the field and extended off the field.
Plays started predictably enough when Tarkenton stepped under center, but once the ball was snapped by Tingelhoff, the center was prepared to go anywhere on behalf of his quarterback and put himself in front of any threat: forward, backward, to the right, to the left, nope back to the right, Tingelhoff was there.
It was only fitting Saturday night when the two men finally stood shoulder-to-shoulder for a brief but poignant moment that will belong to the ages, in Vikings lore and beyond.
After 11 total seasons of taking snaps from Tingelhoff, Tarkenton presented his best friend for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 37 years after their final snap together.
Tarkenton, the third pick ever made by the Vikings, became the franchise's first to have a bronze bust placed into what many call "football heaven" in 1986.
"Mick's a man of little words, but a lot of action," Tarkenton told a crowd of more than 22,000 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. "He's so proud to be in this Class of 2015."
Tarkenton choked up when he said Tingelhoff "waited 37 years," before adding, "but Mick's in the Hall of Fame."
Many felt the wait was too long for Tingelhoff, but they are relieved the honor has at last been bestowed on the Nebraska native who arrived in Minnesota as an undrafted free agent linebacker in 1962 and moved to center in the second preseason game.
The crowd gave a long ovation for the player who stood the test of time for 17 seasons without missing a practice or snap in 240 regular season games and 19 postseason games, including all four Super Bowl appearances.
"He just wanted me to tell all of his teammates who are here and thank them for being here," Tarkenton added, "our great coach and fellow Hall of Famer, Bud Grant, all of the Viking fans who have come from all over the country, and all the rest of you fans, and even you Steeler fans who beat us in that Super Bowl. Thank you."
The speech was less than 100 words, but it was fitting, much like the signature Gold Jacket Tingelhoff received Thursday for a man whose actions and accomplishments spoke loudly.
A tribute video preceded Tingelhoff and Tarkenton taking the stage.
"He did everything, he called the blocking, he made the blocks against the defensive tackles and made the blocks against the great linebackers like (Hall of Famers Dick) Butkus and (Ray) Nitschke, who were in our division," Tarkenton said in the video. "He played against the best and was as quick as any center I've ever seen. He had a jolt, a motor, a capacity to hit people that was stunning."
The video included archived footage of an interview Tingelhoff gave in his early days and spoke about his role in protecting his QB.
"When you block for Fran Tarkenton, you really have to be able to go," said Tingelhoff with wavy hair a little longer than a crew cut. "You have to maintain contact with your man all the time because when Fran passes you, he'll probably be back again."
Tarkenton said in the video that he "never knew Mick Tingelhoff to have a bad day."
"He played hard with great skills every time he went on the football field," Tarkenton said. "He helped make the Minnesota Vikings a great team of that era. He helped us get to those Super Bowls. We could not have done it without Mick Tingelhoff. This was true, one of the great offensive linemen of our era. I'm honored and privileged to present my best friend and teammate Mick Tingelhoff for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
Tingelhoff was joined at the celebratory weekend by his Head Coach Bud Grant (Hall of Fame Class of 1994), Offensive Coordinator Jerry Burns and Vikings legends.
"It's a wonderful occasion to honor Mick in this way, and to be a small part of it was really gratifying," Grant told Vikings.com. "I can't remember when I've been happier for anybody for a long time than I am for Mick Tingelhoff. The only thing that will make it happier is if Jim Marshall was here, and hopefully he will be at some point."
Burns told Vikings.com that Tingelhoff is the best center he's ever seen and said everything about him is "first-class."
"From the standpoint of a human being and the type of man he is, there's nobody better than Mick Tingelhoff," Burns said.
Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause said it was great to be on-hand and see Tingelhoff receive well-deserved honor. Krause called Butkus "the best middle linebacker to ever play" and said "Mick played him very, very well."
Right guard Milt Sunde, who lined up between Tingelhoff and Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary said Tingelhoff "was good at a lot of things."
"There wasn't anything he didn't do well," except cribbage, Sunde recalled.
Tingelhoff also was joined by a substantial group of family members who know him as a devoted and loving husband, father and grandfather who happened to play football at a high level.
"It's been wonderful, it's just the greatest honor that you could imagine," said Phyllis Tingelhoff, Mick's wife of 55 years. "What's been so great is that all of his teammates and friends and of course family, but they've all been so supportive and happy for them."
Their son, Pat, who spent part of his youth as a ball boy during training camps at Minnesota State University, Mankato, said "we really didn't think of him as a football player. He went to Cub scouts, did all the things other dads were doing. We never really thought about what he did until he got older. He definitely was a family man first. He always took care of us and never pushed us into athletics, but supported us in whatever we wanted to do."
Pat Tingelhoff, did however, remember a time when his father his father pushed himself through a staff infection, got it drained and made it to the game.
The Tingelhoff family will proudly share their patriarch.
"It was pretty amazing what he did in 17 seasons to never miss a game," Pat Tingelhoff said. "It's awesome to realize he's going to be (in the Hall of Fame) forever. He's part of that family now."