Dennis Claridge says Mick Tingelhoff was a great guy to have as a teammate on the 1961 Nebraska Cornhuskers. And Claridge was grateful to be taking snaps from Tingelhoff instead of lining up across from him.
"He was a very good player. An aggressive player," Claridge says. "It was hard to believe he was as aggressive as he was. Because he always had a smile on his face."
Tingelhoff, a farm boy from Lexington, lettered for Nebraska from 1959 to '61, a bleak period in which the Huskers won a combined 11 games. He did a lot more winning in the NFL. After going undrafted and signing as a free agent, he started 17 straight seasons at center for the Minnesota Vikings, snapping to quarterback Fran Tarkenton and helping Minnesota win 10 Central Division titles and reach the Super Bowl four times. The Vikings lost all four, but Tingelhoff was All-Pro seven times.
"Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams. I have no doubt that had he not played center he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker," said Bud Grant, the Vikings' coach from 1967 to '83.
Now, Tingelhoff is a Hall of Fame center.
In part because of his 240 consecutive starts — still the third-longest streak in NFL history — he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a seniors committee nominee in the 2015 class. Tingelhoff became the fourth former Husker to be enshrined in Canton.
He wasn't big, carrying 240 pounds at most on his 6-foot-2 frame. But "he was very quick," says Ron McDole, who played with Tingelhoff at Nebraska and against him in the NFL.
He was also heady. "The center usually has to call all the blocking," McDole says. "You have to be smart to know what’s going on and be able to read defenses."
While he's asked about the Super Bowl losses, Tingelhoff says his good memories far outnumber his bad.
"It was a lot of fun," he says. "I really enjoyed football. And I got out of it in good shape."
Related: 'You won't find anybody tougher'
Played for: Lexington High, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Minnesota Vikings
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Monte Kiffin of Lexington, the 1958 state high school athlete of the year. "He was all-state in basketball, too," Tingelhoff says. "He was a great athlete. Big and tall. But he slipped a disc and had a spine injury at Nebraska. That injury really hurt him."
Best moment as an athlete: His best moment as a Husker was probably the 1959 win over Oklahoma that snapped the Sooners' 74-game undefeated streak. He still owns a piece of a goalpost torn down after the game.
Tingelhoff was No. 23 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »