SIOUX CITY | Going to Uncle Mick’s was always a special memory for Tim Saulsbury.
It didn’t matter if it was a fishing trip or stories around the campfire. There were always tales about Minnesota Vikings football from a relative who will always have a special place in Saulsbury’s heart, Mick Tingelhoff.
No doubt, the latest trip was the most special of all. Seventeen members of the Jim and De Saulsbury family, including the wives and children of Sioux City residents Tim Saulsbury, Pat Saulsbury and Steve Saulsbury rented a bus to Canton, Ohio, where on Saturday, Tingelhoff (De’s younger brother) was one of eight inducted into the NFL Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Stadium.
Tim Saulsbury saw his uncle's career unfold right in front of his eyes during quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s video speech. A center, Tingelhoff never missed a game or a practice in his 17-year Vikings career (1962-1978), logging 240 consecutive starts.
“Fran said, for as good as a player Uncle Mick was, it was way too long of a wait, 37 years, for a player of such quality,” said Saulsbury. “The best part of Fran’s speech was when he said, here is a guy who came from Lexington, Nebraska, who was a football player to the bone. They knew he was a football player when he first stepped on to the Vikings’ practice field. He started the first game, the last game and never missed a game in between.
“His ability to overcome pain and adversity was second to none. Saturday night, I talked to (Vikings right tackle) Ron Yary, who said it was a tragedy your uncle didn’t precede me in the Hall of Fame. He said he was a leader. He said he was the best offensive lineman of the time when he was there.”
Tingelhoff is the 14th center to make the Hall of Fame. Undrafted from the University of Nebraska, his career included four Super Bowl appearances and six Pro Bowl games.
Tingelhoff, the sixth member of the Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” Era to reach Canton, helped protect Tarkenton, a Hall of Fame quarterback. He also blocked effectively for several running backs, including Dave Osborn and Chuck Foreman.
Saulsbury said his 75-year old uncle has short-term memory loss, some of it caused by concussions or other head injuries which occurred in his NFL career. He didn’t speak Saturday, instead letting Tarkenton speak for him.
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“Fran said he took care of me all those years so I’m going to take care of him,” said Saulsbury. “Fran and Dave Osborne were two of his dearest friends.”
The Saulsbury families met more of Tingelhoff’s relatives from Lexington, Neb., during the events prior to Saturday. Combined, there were 40 from the two families, all wearing purple Vikings shirts, during the ceremony.
The bus trip was organized by De Saulsbury, who according to Tim Saulsbury, has been close to Tingelhoff since childhood.
In July of 2014, De and Jim Saulsbury were vacationing in the Black Hills with her brother and his wife when Phyliss Tingelhoff received a call from the Hall of Fame committee.
The families attended Thursday’s Gold Coat ceremony, Friday’s Hall of Fame style show, Saturday’s parade and Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony. They didn’t see the Vikings’ Hall of Fame Game 14-3 win over Pittsburgh in person, but watched the game during part of the 883-mile return trip to Sioux City.
Memories of the weekend and Tingelhoff's humble nature were too big to ignore.
“He said this was a great honor and that he was happy to be recognized for his football play,” said Saulsbury. “He got a bust, a gold jacket, a ring and a bronze plaque for a gravestone. When his teammates, his coaches, his family and his friends talked about how great a player and a guy he was, that touched him.
“One thing about Uncle Mick, he’s a very humble man, one of the happiest men you’d ever want to meet. I never saw him in a bad mood. He was humble. He took things in stride. No one played harder, lived a cleaner life or was a tougher football player. This event was the pinnacle to his extraordinary football career.”