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Remembering a football legend who said little and did much

Mick Tingelhoff ruled well, from the football field to the balcony.

Mick Tingelhoff posing with his bust at the 2015 Pro Football Enshrinement Cermony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Mick Tingelhoff posing with his bust at the 2015 Pro Football Enshrinement Cermony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

It was in December of 1970 when I met a future football Hall of Fame superstar at the old St. Paul Civic Center auditorium.  We had each volunteered to be third-story hosts to the balcony folks who could not afford to attend the main floor fund-raising dinner. We were the only two to watch over this younger and more lively audience, we soon learned.

Organizers had asked us to be there around 7 p.m., though at that time nobody else was seated that high.

I looked at my counterpart and immediately recognized the 30-year-old Minnesota Vikings veteran center. I  awkwardly said something like, “This duty must be important if Mick Tingelhoff is part of it.” He looked at me and quietly responded that he had no idea what was expected of him. Fran Tarkenton would later describe Mick as “a man of little words but a lot of action.” No argument here.

At that time Mick had been selected to six straight Pro Bowls, often considered the highest honor for an active player in the National Football League as each is selected in a voting process by fans, coaches and players.

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Talk about durable. After completing 17 years of play as a professional in 1978,  the Nebraska Cornhusker graduate is said to have never missed a game and never missed even a practice. His 240 straight games is an NFL record for an offensive center.

Mick’s success as a player was equaled by the Vikings teams on which he played with winning titles in 10 of his final 11 seasons. Coach Bud Grant, a fan of Mick, coached  the Vikings for 18 years, winning 11 division titles and earning a spot  in four Super Bowls, all with Mick at center.

Mick and his wife Phyllis, who met in college, settled in Lakeville, Minn., and together raised three children. He had a special love for hunting and the outdoors.  When he died last week,  Mick had 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Along with his beloved family, Mick’s Catholic faith came first.

After a 31-year hiatus, Mick was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

St Paul experience together  

On that night in St. Paul over 50 years ago, we both knew that the speaker, Vice President Spiro Agnew, was known nationwide as a controversial advocate for his views on how America and the world operated.

Chuck Slocum
Chuck Slocum
That night he uttered for the first time, I believe, that “in the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.  They have formed their own 4-H Club — the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”  He also had some words for students, whom Tingelhoff and I were watching over. “The student now goes to college to proclaim rather than to learn.”

Soon, a small group of younger people, likely college students, stood up and began to hiss and boo. Mick and I came behind and politely requested they sit and listen or that we could help them leave. They decided to be quiet and listen — and did so.

Spiro Agnew was to resign less than three years later from the vice presidency facing criminal charges dating to when he was governor of Maryland. He died at age 77 in 1996.

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Agnew’s boss, President Richard Nixon, also resigned as he was forced from office over the Watergate affair in 1974.  Nixon died in 1994 at age 81.

When one assesses a life well lived, give me my long-ago balcony boss Mick anytime.

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm based in Minnetonka. He can be reached at Chuck@WillistonGroup.com.