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.
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]