Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Congratulations, Mick Tinglehoff - NFL Hall of Famer

After far too long, former Viking great Mick Tinglehoff finally received his due, and has been elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.  

His accomplishments are storied and many.  However, for me and my one meeting with him, I simply found him to be a hell of a guy.

Here's the story, taken from A Dog Named Blitz:

I was running marketing for a major sporting goods company at the time, and was negotiating with the Minnesota Vikings on an advertising package for the coming year.  In addition to the traditional advertising opportunities - stadium signage, program advertising, sponsorships, and the like - the Vikings were able to make alumni players available for store appearances, corporate gatherings, and other events.  In our discussions, it came up that NFL six-time Pro Bowl center Mick Tingelhoff  was an avid bird hunter, and may be interested in being available for a game farm hunt to be used as a sweepstakes. 

For anyone living in Minnesota in the 1970's, Mick Tinglehoff was Vikings royalty.  He was widely considered the best at his position through the late '60's, and he led the offensive line for the their four NFC Championships.  He'd be a perfect incentive to drive folks into our stores under the pretext of possibly getting a chance to hunt with him. 

My worry, though, was about his shape.  Here was a man that played at the highest level of football for sixteen years.  Sixteen years!  Were his knees capable of carrying him along in a day-long hunt?  Would his shoulder and arms be up to the task of hauling a heavy gun and firing?  Through my work and in other capacities I had chances to meet Vikings players from the 60's and 70's, and some of them could barely move due to the years of punishment their bodies sustained.  Just what could I expect?  My contact at the Vikings suggested I not worry, and we worked out the details for the drawing. 

Still, I was nervous. 

The sweepstakes as a promotion was as much of a hit as I had expected, and I was thrilled for how it drove traffic to the stores.  I was also thrilled with our winner - a young man of 12.  Hunting is turning into a old man's game as very few kids hunt anymore.  To get some new blood into the field excited me to no end.  And while our winner didn't know Mick Tingelhoff from Adam, he was darned excited to be selected for such a great trip.  His dad, on the other hand, seemed just as thrilled to meet the famed #53 from the Vikings. 

On the appointed day our winner, his dad and I were to meet Mick for lunch ahead of our afternoon hunt.  At this point I was worried.  What if Mick was indeed in bad shape?  What if he was a raging jerk, as some athletes were?  I was worried for our young winner, as I wanted this day to be a memorable one for him. 

In short order an older gentleman entered the restaurant, strode easily over to our table, removed his cap, and introduced himself as Mick Tingelhoff.  Despite my fears, Mick was in incredible shape.  He moved fine, obviously kept himself in shape, and would have no trouble on this hunt.  Likewise, as we learned over lunch, he was a humble and personable gentleman.  A truly wonderful guy. 

This was punctuated as he was telling stories at lunch.  He happened to mention that at the time of his retirement he held the record for the second most consecutive games played at 240 straight games (teammate Jim Marshall famously held the record for most games played).  240 games!  And these weren't the easy games of a kicker or a punter.  These were games played via the war in the trenches.  Remembering his gait over to the table, and looking at his non-gnarled hands, I finally had to ask how he did it.  Just exactly how did he stay healthy all of those years?  With the deepest sincerity, he looked me dead in the eye and said, "Mike, I don't know.  I honestly don't know.  I do know that I'm very lucky.  Most of the men I played with have significant health issues.  I just don't.  I get out of bed every morning and I feel fine.  I'm just really, really lucky."  It was an amazing story. 

We finished our lunches and headed out to start our hunt.  After a short drive to our appointed field we were joined by a guide from the club, but for this hunt, Blitz would be our sole dog.  I introduced our group to Blitz at the tailgate, and got her ready for the hunt. 

It wasn't long before Blitz got on a hot scent, and I let our band know that her body signals meant she was birdy, and that we needed to get ready.  After dashing head-down about 20 yards ahead and to my left, Blitz made a quick jerk to her left and immediately locked up statue still.  "OK guys," I said, "She's on point.  That means there's a bird somewhere in front of her nose.  Get in behind her and I'll get her to flush it up."  Right away the winner's father suggested that Mick get into position, but Mick immediately deferred.  He wanted to see what kind of a shot our young winner was. 

After getting the boy into position I commanded Blitz to get the bird, and immediately a beautiful rooster burst from the cover directly in front of her.  Our young winner, with all the pressure of being the designated shooter on him, made a single, clean and sporty shot on the hard flying bird.  Blitz marked the bird down, retrieved it, and brought it to hand, with compliments around for her performance.  None of our group had hunted with a pointing lab before, and they were thrilled with Blitz's performance.   

While I carried a gun for the hunt, I served only as a back-up shooter, as I wanted the day to belong to the boy, his dad, and to Mick.  I was forced into a couple of shots, and performed well, but left the gun slung over my shoulder for much of the day.  That was just fine with me, as I was thrilled to watch Blitz work so well.  I was equally thrilled to watch our group have so much fun hunting behind her. 

Our day could not have been any better; our winners were incredibly appreciative, and our celebrity a consummate gentleman.  Throw in some outstanding dog work by Blitz, and the whole experience was a rousing success.  At the end, the father of our winner approached me a conveyed his sincere appreciation for how his son was treated.  He was made to feel really special, and had a day that he'd not forget. And neither of them would forget that incredible pointing yellow lab.  I conveyed my appreciation for the compliment, and stated with all sincerity that anything we could do to get a young kid hooked on hunting was worth the effort.  We shook hands and said our good-byes. 

It was now time to thank Mick, and he came up to me with his hand extended and wearing a huge grin.  "You know," he said, "you never know what you're going to get into when you volunteer for one of these things.  I just want you to know I had a great time.  A great time.  And you've got one heck of a dog.  Thank you."  Coming from a guy that knew a thing or two about athletic performance, that meant the world to me. 

Thanks for a memorable day, #53.  If there was a Hall of Fame for being a gentleman, you'd be in it.    

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