While catching up on HBO's Hard Knocks on Wednesday night, I couldn't help but think of Mick Tingelhoff.
The five-time first-team All-Pro center, who was named as the 2015 nominee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Senior Committee earlier that day, put together a sterling 17-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. Tingelhoff started on not one but four Super Bowl teams, and he's more than deserving of Canton consideration. But one particular accomplishment sprung to mind as I watched Atlanta Falcons players try like heck to just make the team: Tingelhoff started 259 consecutive games, missing exactly zero contests in his illustrious tenure.
HBO's preseason spectacular gives one a firm sense of what it takes to stick on an NFL roster, and how it can be quite an uphill battle for the undrafted rookie. It also puts pro football's iron men -- like Brett Favre, London Fletcher and Tingelhoff's teammate, Jim Marshall -- in perspective. And, of course, it validates Tingelhoff's lengthy NFL journey as Hall-worthy.
Tingelhoff was more than just a guy who made the Vikings as -- yup, you guessed it -- an undrafted rookie free agent. He was more than a guy who earned Pro Bowl honors six times. He was more than a key figure on the Bud Grant-piloted Viking ship that sailed through the old NFC Central in the 1970s, accumulating eight division titles during a decade of growth for pro football.
Tingelhoff's career stretched from the early, Fran Tarkenton days of the Vikings franchise through the most important period of expansion in NFL history (the NFL-AFL merger) to the advent of the 16-game schedule, culminating in a season where the modern passing game truly spawned. And through it all, the undersized 237-pound center played a brand of hard-nosed football that teammates, opponents and, apparently, Senior Committee members came to respect.
Respect is a big part of the Tingelhoff legacy. Just ask the running backs for whom he opened holes -- guys who accumulated 13 Pro Bowl nods (an indirect accolade for a man playing on the center of the offensive line). Tingelhoff excelled in an era and a division in which middle linebackers dominated -- and the center often had to get out and block them in space. We're talking about Joe Schmidt, Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus, some of the very best to ever play their position. Tingelhoff also played at an All-Pro level when defensive tackles like Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly were wreaking havoc.
All the while, the University of Nebraska product stood out from his peers, often considered the best center of the NFL in the '60s, while Raiders icon Jim Otto held the same standing in the AFL. Otto -- like Schmidt, Nitschke, Butkus, Olsen and Lilly -- is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now, 35 years after he played his last down in the league, Tingelhoff is being recognized for standing toe-to-toe with those players for all those years in Minnesota. And if he receives 80 percent of the vote come Super Bowl XLIX weekend, he will be bust-to-bust with them in Canton.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.