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Mick Tingelhoff is the 2015 Senior Committee Nominee

Another HOF battery?

Another HOF battery?

Dermontti Dawson is the only Hall of Fame center to play in the NFL in the last 20 years. Go back 30 years, and the only other HOF centers are Mike Webster and Dwight Stephenson. Go back a few more years, and you only get to add Jim Langer. In fact, since 1975, the only teams to have Hall of Fame centers were the Steelers and Dolphins.1

Go all the way back to 1960, and the only other Hall of Fame centers to play in the NFL were Jim Ringo and Jim Otto. In other words, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a center problem. And the nomination of Mick Tingelhoff for induction into the HOF is one small step towards fixing that problem.

This year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has named Tingelhoff the 2015 Senior Committee Nominee.  Tingelhoff still needs to have 80% of the voters give him the thumbs up, but unlike other players, he won’t be “competing” against the rest of the field for the right to earn a bust. Tingelhoff’s candidacy will be handled via a simple yes or no vote.

Hall of Fame fans may wonder why I’m talking about the Senior nominee, because there are generally two nominees from the Senior Committee.  But things have changed for this year:

A bylaws modification to the selection process was approved earlier this month by which a Contributor – defined as an individual who has “made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching” – will automatically be included among the annual list of finalists for election. The Contributor finalist will also be voted on for election independent of all other finalists.

The Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees, in an effort to address the backlog of deserving Contributor candidates, also approved a temporary measure allowing for two Contributor finalists in years one (starting with the Class of 2015), three and five, of the next five years. In years two and four of that same period, there will be just one Contributor finalist. To keep the maximum number of nominees elected at no more than eight per year, the Senior finalists will be reduced from two to one per year in years one, three and five of the same five-year period. In years two and four and each year thereafter, there will be two Senior finalists.

That’s good news for Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, Art Modell, Edward Debartolo, Jr., George Young, and other owners/contributors, and not so great news for other NFL players who retired prior to 1990.  As for Tingelhoff, he’s a worthy choice. Here is what I wrote about him when I analyzed the best undrafted players of all time.

Tingelhoff is perhaps the most decorated player not in the Hall of Fame. He’s tied with Chuck Howley and Jimmy Patton for the most NFL first-team AP All-Pro nominations by an eligible non-HOFer with five, but he made more Pro Bowls than both of them. He played for 17 seasons, started 240 games, and made four Super Bowls. Amazingly, Tingelhoff started his first game as an UDFA, and then never missed a singe game. Before that, Tingelhoff had a predictable career path. He grew up in Lexington, Nebraska and ended up playing football at the University of Nebraska. He didn’t start until his senior season, but in 1961 he was co-captain of the Cornhuskers. His career was relatively undistinguished — Nebraska wasn’t very good and Tingelhoff did not win All-American or All-Conference honors. Unlike most on the list, Tingelhoff got to play major college football, but did not convince any NFL teams to draft him. Minnesota was a team in desperate need of a center, so Tingelhoff was a good fit. The Vikings entered the NFL in 1961, with newly retired QB Norm Van Brocklin as head coach; Van Brocklin brought over his backup center from Philadelphia, Bill Lapham, to start for the expansion Vikings. The Vikings didn’t bring in any new centers in ’62 until Tingelhoff. Tingelhoff took over as starting center in Minnesota’s second pre-season game, and didn’t relinquish that spot until he retired.

Since 1960, there have been 21 offensive linemen who have been selected by the Associated Press2 as an first-team All-Pro at least five times.  Sixteen are in the Hall of Fame. Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca are not yet eligible, but will almost certainly wind up in Canton one day. The other three are Tingelhoff, Jerry Kramer, and Jim Tyrer.  Kramer was part of the most HOF-studded team of all time, so you can understand the reluctance of voters to induct yet another Lombardi Packer.3 Tyrer killed his wife and committed suicide prior to being eligible for induction. Tingelhoff’s biggest crime was struggling to block Curley Culp and Joe Greene in the Super Bowl.  I’m not sure ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” applies here, but regardless, Tingelhoff should join Culp and Greene in the Hall of Fame next August.

  1. Yes, I know Webster’s career ended with the Chiefs and Langer’s with the Vikings. And that Bruce Matthews played a little bit of center, too. []
  2. Younger fans put significant weight on the AP voting process, but the AP was not nearly as revered during Tingelhoff’s time. Of course, it’s not as though Tingelhoff was just the apple of the AP’s eye: he was a first-team All-Pro selection by the United Press International six times, being chosen in every year from 1964 to 1969. During that stretch, he was an AP choice each year other than ’67, when Bob DeMarco relegated Tingelhoff to the AP’s second-team. The Newspaper Enterprise Association and the New York Daily News voted for Tingelhoff as a first-teamer in every year from 1965 to 1969 (both organizations, ironically, chose DeMarco as the first-team center in 1964.) The Sporting News, which split the NFL into two conferences, selected Tingelhoff as a first-team All-Conference center in ’64, ’65, ’66, ’67, ’68, and ’70 (and as far as I can tell, there is no record for the Sporting News’ selection at center in 1969). In other words, there is little doubt that Tingelhoff was playing at a Hall of Fame caliber from at least 1964 to 1969, and he was — at a minimum — a consistent starter for at least eleven other seasons. []
  3. Some think Kramer’s book, Instant Replay, alienated enough media members to keep him outside of Canton. But easily my favorite explanation is that there are still not enough Packers in the Hall of Fame, and they are all splitting the ballot with Kramer. []
  • It’s great that contributors are going to get a fairer shake, but I don’t think limiting the Senior candidates is the way to go. Like…at all. There are so many deserving players that having even two Senior spots isn’t enough.

    Also, are you not counting AFL AP1s for this list (or were you not in your 2010 post on PFR)? I ask because Johnny Robinson was first team 6 times, although only once after the merger. Larry Grantham was a five timer, but never in the NFL proper (I think that will be my new, pretentious way to say that from now on).

    Since you wrote the article on UDFAs, Zach Thomas has joined the ranks of eligible non-HOF players with 5 AP1s, and the upcoming guys with more than 5 seem like locks (Lewis, Faneca, Seau, Hutchinson, and Owens).

    Still no idea what to do with ancient guys like Dilweg, Emerson, and Matheson. Heck, I don’t even know what to do with Stanfel and Shofner. I say put them all in. One fell swoop.

    I don’t want to go on much longer, or this will veer into rant territory, but I think that any player who is named to an All Decade first team should make it into the Hall on principle alone. I’d even be open to hearing a case for Lorenzo Neal.

    By decade, the number of AD1 eligible O/D players not in Canton:

    2000s - 2
    1990s - 3
    1980s - 2
    1970s - 2
    

    It gets a little fuzzy before that with no distinctions between first/second team. Okay, I’m done for now.

  • David

    I know we’re talking senior committee nominees, but as long as we’re talking about centers, can Jeff Saturday get a shout out? Total AV of 158.

    • I’d shout out to Tom Nalen and Jay Hilgenberg before Jeff Saturday. For offensive linemen, AV is so dependent on points scored that a lineman protecting Peyton Manning is going to end up with a decent AV almost by default. Plus, I think Nick Mangold is leaps and bounds above Saturday for best center of the decade.

      • Chase Stuart

        I’d shout out to Mawae 🙂

        • Kibbles

          Yeah, I think Nalen and Mawae were the class of the post-Dawson centers (among retired players), with Mawae having a much better shot at induction because the voters don’t all hate him.

  • Richie

    I hate that commissioners get elected to hall of fames, especially if it takes away from any other worthy candidate getting elected. Since there are so few commissioners, they should just be honored in the hall by default.

    But I’m just not sure what Tagliabue did to deserve being in the hall. He was a fine commissioner, but I’m not sure he did anything great. Pete Rozelle was a great commissioner. I think his work is what truly made the NFL a great league, with game-changing things like: parity, Super Bowls, TV deals and the merger coming on his watch. Did Tagliabue really oversee anything special like that?

    • Chase Stuart

      How would you compare Tags to Goodell?

      • Richie

        I think that Tagliabue and Goodell are basically just “caretaker” commissioners and have done a fine job. People complain about the suspensions (or lack thereof) by Goodell. And he might deserve some criticism for lack of action in regards to concussions, but it seems that he is working to improve on these things. If the owners really wanted him to fix the concussion problem, I’m sure he’d do it.

    • Kibbles

      Tagliabue presided over an era of uninterrupted labor peace (all the more impressive when you remember the repeated strikes immediately before he took office and the lockout shortly after he left). It’s no accident that when Goodell’s bountygate suspensions came under review, Tagliabue was the only guy who was respected enough by both the league and the NFLPA to handle the case. He also oversaw the implementation of free agency and the salary cap, which tripled in 10 years under his watch based on the unheard-of explosion of TV revenues (Salary cap in 1994: $34m. Salary cap in 2006: over $100m). Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys when Tagliabue took over, and by the time Tags retired the franchise was worth ten times as much. Obviously Jones had a lot to do with that himself, but Tagliabue’s reign was a period of unbroken peace, prosperity, and parity despite momentous changes. I don’t think commissioners should automatically warrant induction, but I think Tagliabue definitely deserves it.

  • t.d.

    It’s awful that they are limiting ‘senior’ candidates to add ‘contributor’ candidates, if that’s what they’re doing. The solution to the bias against electing contributors while there’s a backlog of deserving playing candidates is to ease the backlog

    • Kibbles

      Or to provide contributors a path to the hall that does not come at the expense of the players.

  • Wow, that is a very strong case. Would be good for him if you could present him in the room. For contributors, I kind of want John Facenda to get in. Or maybe it would be good enough to have a button near Steve Sabol’s plaque one day that people could press to hear “The autumn wind is a Raider…” or “Lombardi, a certain magic…” or well, whatever.

  • Kibbles

    Can someone please give me a case for putting Eddie DeBartolo into the Hall of Fame that does not contain the words “hired Bill Walsh”? It doesn’t even have to be a particularly good case; if you could convince me that DeBartolo would be a fringe candidate without hiring Bill Walsh, I’d gladly say that Walsh’s hire pushes DeBartolo over the edge.

    Otherwise, if we’re just going to be inducting everyone who ever had anything to do with Bill Walsh based on Bill Walsh’s success, I’d like to nominate Bill Walsh’s mother for the Hall of Fame.

  • Jack

    The way Chase feels about Centers is similar to my observation about Safeties. When I was in the league Tingelhoff was past his prime years. Early in my career Forrest Blue, Ed Flanagan were the big names at Center (in the NFC) then later on Tom Banks was probably the top Center in that Conference. However, I do think Webs, Otto and Langer deserved nomination to the HOF more than the other guys we’re talking about. Jeff Van Note had a long stretch of playing excellent football as well, let’s not forget him. Going back to talking about Safeties, I still don’t understand why Cliff Harris, Jake Scott, Donnie Shell and Kenny Easley aren’t in the HOF.

    • bachslunch

      Agreed, safeties get screwed when it come to the HoF. Agreed that Cliff Harris, Donnie Shell, and Kenny Easley belong in. Other deserving Seniors include Jimmy Patton, Bobby Dillon, Johnny Robinson, and Eddie Meador (not to mention hybrid-types like Dave Grayson and Cornell Green), while regular candidates like Joey Browner, Deron Cherry, Steve Atwater, Leroy Butler, and Darren Woodson have excellent cases (not counting John Lynch since he has actually been a finalist and may break through, which is fine with me).

  • Jeff Y

    “Tingelhoff is perhaps the most decorated player not in the Hall of Fame. He’s tied with Chuck Howley and Jimmy Patton for the most NFL first-team AP All-Pro nominations by an eligible non-HOFer with five …”

    Add Jerry Kramer to that list – he also had 5 All-Pro seasons. 60, 62, 63, 66, and 67.

    Though I’ve read all the articles as to why Jerry Kramer is not in the HOF – it is still a mistake. Kramer was a starter and key player on every Packer championship team (though he missed four games in the ’61 title year). And, though their defense was quite dominant, Kramer was the leader of the famed Packer sweep, made the most famous block in NFL history, was all-pro five times, and the worst season of the Lombardi era other than the first (7-5) was 1964, when the Packers went 8-5-1. That corresponded with the year Kramer was hurt most of the season, playing in only two games. Coincidence? maybe, maybe not but the rest of the key starters (QB, RB, OL, Defense) were basically in tact.

    Regardless of how many Packers are in the HOF or the supposed rumors that Kramer didn’t do well against certain players or that some Packers (these are rumors, of course) thought other linemen were better, Kramer is clearly deserving to be in the HOF at this point.

    • Rol Edquist

      I’m with Jeff Y. – Mr. Kramer the only member of the NFL 50th Anniversary team not in the HOF. I’d add L.C.Greenwood as also deserving. I wish Canton would hurry up on these two – I’m not going to live forever – but seriously – both should have been enshrined long ago.

  • mike archie

    mick tingelhoff should have been in the hall of fame years ago . he played in an era of the 4-3 defense where he had to block the middle linebacker . excuse me : he blocked dick butkus , ray nitscke , joe schmit , tommy nobis , lee roy Jordan, jack lambert, mike Curtis , willie lanier , should I go on . the centers today could not hold micks jockstrap.

  • mike archie

    in addition to mick how about captain JIM MARSHALL are you kidding me the ultimate iron man 20 years never missed a game

    • Steven M

      Tingelhoff & Marshall. Both were Vikings “Ironmen”, playing on the same teams at the same time and era. When was there another time in the NFL where an Offensive & Defensive anchor linemen literally swapped out to the other in every game for nearly TWO Decades?!! 22 starters every game: Mick T. & Jim M. were always 2 of these 22!! The NFL HOF should have their busts made… just to tell this story. Unimaginable but true. And each played in 4 SB’s against some of the very best…and locked horns with those Lombardi teams of the 60’s…twice a year. That’s a lot of bruises!

      • bachslunch

        Mick Tingelhoff is very HoF deserving and I’m happy he was elected. Jim Marshall however has utterly no business in the HoF and it amazes me that people persist in pushing his candidacy. Marshall was never once in 20 years named a first team all pro by any organization, went to only two pro bowls, and isn’t on any all-decade teams; he was much of the time the third-best DL on his own team for heaven’s sake. And I’m sorry, but a consecutive game streak alone isn’t enough of an argument to elect anyone absent any other qualifications, otherwise someone like Everett Scott would be in the Baseball Hall.

  • Kris M

    Stuart,

    Nice article. Just out of curiosity, where does Dick Schafrath fits in with your OT ratings. If i look on PFR, i see he was a 6 PB, 4 Aps ? He certainly might’ve been rated higher had the Cleveland Browns won more championships. Trouble with those Browns teams was not on offense, but defense.

    • bachslunch

      The good news re Dick Schafrath is that he has one of the better postseason honors profiles for an OT not in the HoF: 4 first team all pro selections, 6 pro bowls, no all-decade team selections. The bad news is that he reportedly doesn’t grade out all that well in film study — see. Ken Crippen’s film study site, for example.