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Mick Tingelhoff and Ron McDole used to baby-sit when their wives went to bridge club.

“We fixed the damnedest drinks you ever saw, chocolate, bananas, malt and vodka,” Tingelhoff said in a 1976 story. “We’ve matured since then, of course.”

Tingelhoff matured into the best center in the NFL in his 17-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. He was named an All-Pro seven times and was part of 10 Central Division championship teams. He often said his biggest thrill in sports was making the Vikings' roster.

On Saturday, his quarterback Fran Tarkenton will introduce the former Husker center (1959-61) into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

That won’t be until after his former high school teammates Monte Kiffin (former NU assistant, college and NFL coach), Dallas Dyer, best friend Steve Smith from Georgia, and other longtime friends party with Mick (Henry Michael Tingelhoff of Lexington) and talk old times, families and fun.

Smith, who spoke at a fete for Tingelhoff in Lexington a month ago, said Mick was simply the toughest player he ever met.

“He got the starting job at center his rookie year and played in 240 consecutive starts for Minnesota and he was the best around,” Smith said. “I used to think I was a great running quarterback, then I’d watch films and understand that I got everything I got in high school because I had Mick in front of me. I bet Tarkenton, Joe Kapp and other quarterbacks believe the same thing.”

Pat Fischer, who played with Tingelhoff at Nebraska and later played against him when Fischer was with Washington, said Tingelhoff was always respected by his opponents.

McDole, who played with Tingelhoff at NU, and with Fischer at Nebraska and Washington for 16 seasons, told Fischer: “Mick was so fast because he wasn’t that big. He was only about 240 (pounds) but nobody beat him, not Sam Huff, not Mean Joe Greene, Dick Butkus or Merlin Olsen.”

“I know that on punts, eventually he’d be blocking me, and I thought I was pretty tough to block.”

But Tingelhoff won’t brag.

It took Smith to tell the story about what Vince Lombardi said to Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “That No. 53 (Tingelhoff) played one of the greatest games I’ve ever witnessed a center play,” Lombardi said.

When the legendary Green Bay Packers coach was told that Tingelhoff played injured, Lombardi laughed. Hartman got the Vikings’ doctor, Don Lannon, to show Lombardi an X-ray of Tingelhoff’s knee (torn leg muscle) and Lombardi was shocked, Hartman wrote.

Famous columnist Jim Murray wrote of Tingelhoff: "He has handled the football more times than any man in the game — maybe 15,000 times. He has never fumbled, been intercepted or tackled.” Later, “So far as Minnesota is concerned, he’s as dependable as snow.”

Later in a 1977 column: “The Vikings might lose Super Bowls. But without Mick Tingelhoff, they wouldn’t get a chance to.”

Smith explained, “Heck, you know that toughness came from growing up on a farm near Lexington, his playing days at Nebraska, even the summer job that he and I had in the oil fields in Wyoming.

“Climbing those rigs, dropping a screwdriver on my hard hat, laughing that he was just messing around,” Smith said. “He was tough, quiet and still is a great friend."

Smith said Tingelhoff, who doesn’t speak much in public, will say thank you and "keep it short and sweet. That’s his way.”

Former Husker and Viking Joe Blahak said Tingelhoff was a special teammate in the pros.

“Mick was the veteran who introduced me to the team when I was a rookie,” Blahak said. “From then on, he was my guide and one of my mentors. He gave me the game ball after we beat the Bears after I intercepted Bobby Douglas late in the game.

“As a player, he was a great leader, ‘Quick Mick,’ he was called,” said Blahak, who lives in Lincoln. “He was the key to getting Minnesota to four Super Bowls. Everybody liked him, admired him and learned from watching him work.

“I don’t know how those guys played so well for so long. But if anybody deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, it’s Mick.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com.

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