Minnesota Vikings HOF center Mick Tingelhoff dead at 81

MINNEAPOLIS — Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff, who anchored the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line at center for 17 seasons and played in four Super Bowls, died Saturday. He was 81.

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Tingelhoff died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis reported.

Michael “Mick” Tingelhoff, was born May 22, 1940, in Lexington, Nebraska. He played collegiately at the University of Nebraska and came to the Vikings in 1962 as an undrafted free agent linebacker. He was shifted to center in Minnesota’s second preseason game in 1962 and remained a rock in the Vikings’ offensive line.

Tingelhoff started 240 consecutive games until he retired after the 1978 season. That is a record for an NFL center, and second on the team to Jim Marshall’s 270, according to The Star-Tribune.

Counting postseason appearances, Tingelhoff played in 259 straight games.

Tingelhoff was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Mick Tingelhoff. He was a true hero of the game,” David Baker, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Mick was a tenacious and persevering competitor with the kindest of hearts and the brightest of smiles. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mick’s wife, Phyllis, and their entire family.”

“When we came to the Vikings (in 1967), Mick and Jim (Marshall) were our two leaders,” former Vikings coach Bud Grant told the Star-Tribune in 2015. “Mick was an introvert. Jim was an extrovert. They were really respected and our best players. They bought the program, which was vital. If I said, ‘Jump,’ Mick and Jim would be the first ones to jump, and everybody else would have to jump with them.”

On Saturday, Grant told the newspaper that “Mick was a great football player and one of the greatest Vikings of all time. I loved Mick Tingelhoff.”

The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, said in a statement that Tingelhoff was the “anchor” of the franchise, especially when it reached the Super Bowl four times during the 1970s.

“A humble but strong leader, he defined toughness. Mick’s legacy will live on as a Hall of Famer, on the field and off the field,” the statement said. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Tingelhoff was a five-time first-team All-Pro and qualified for the Pro Bowl six straight times beginning in 1964. Over his final 11 seasons, the Vikings won their division 10 times, The Star-Tribune reported.

Tingelhoff was inducted into the Vikings’ Ring of Honor and had his No. 53 retired in November 2001, KMSP reported. He is also a member of the team’s 25th- and 40th-anniversary teams, the television station reported.

Quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who took snaps from Tingelhoff from 1962 to 1966 and from 1972 to 1978, walked with his center to the podium during the 2015 induction ceremonies.

Tarkenton spoke for his teammate, who was unable to deliver a speech because of his advanced cognitive impairment, The Star-Tribune reported.

Tarkenton delivered the induction speech for his friend, saying that “Mick’s a man of little words, but a lot of action.”

“I came to the Vikings a year before Mick, but we left at the same time. He was my guy,” Tarkenton said Saturday. “He played 17 years, never missed a game, never missed a practice. Mick was my best friend by far.”