Klingbeil was always positive
It was just one play among many in a long athletic career for Chuck Klingbeil.
The late Houghton High athlete, who passed away earlier this week, was playing for the Miami Dolphins in a 1991 game against the Green Bay Packers.
Packers quarterback Don Majkowski faded back into his own end zone to throw a pass and dropped the football.
“The football was just sitting on the ground, like a Christmas present,” Klingbeil said in an interview not long afterward. “A definite highlight.”
The touchdown scored by him proved to be the winning points in Miami coach Don Shula’s 300th career victory. A journalist in Miami later labeled the play a “superstar moment for a regular player.”
But Chuck Klingbeil was more than a regular player. He was the kind of guy who always carried a positive attitude.
Watching him as a high school sophomore at HHS, one could see he had the potential to be more than just another player.
I remember him as a football player, who was a huge force on defense. And when the Gremlins occasionally put him in at running back, you could see the fear in the faces of the opposition.
“Imagine trying to tackle him (Klingbeil) coming at you as a 150-pound defensive back,” I wrote in a 1983 preview story.
He gained All-U.P. and all-state honors in football, but also garnered all-state laurels in hockey, where late Gremlins coach Don Miller recognized his size and talent as a definite plus.
Chuck really blossomed at Northern Michigan University under defensive line coach Buck Nystrom, a person he held a lifetime respect for.
Klingbeil gained some All-American mention as the Wildcats flourished, making the Division II quarterfinals one season.
There weren’t too many calls from the NFL after he graduated from NMU.
But he caught on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, joining friend and NMU teammate Bob Jurasin on the club.
His great work ethic — a quality he always possessed — gained him a spot in the defensive line.
In the 1989 Grey Cup win over Winnipeg, Klingbeil was named Defensive MVP for his work for the Roughriders.
That showing earned him a tryout with the Dolphins a year later, and he made the roster as a 6-1, 295-pound nose tackle.
Shula, a coach who always appreciated hard work, inserted him in the starting lineup before long. He helped the Dolphins win a pair of AFC East Division titles and make the playoffs three times.
A serious injury ended his NFL career after five seasons, but he kept working after that in hopes of a comeback.
When that comeback never materialized, Chuck eventually served as a line coach at NMU, Michigan Tech and Finlandia University.
He also taught a few high school players, who came to him for advice.
His advice to his students was simple: Work hard and stick to the fundamentals.
I wrote several stories about Chuck and always found him to be respectful and always cooperative.
And I know he lived in constant pain because of injuries he sustained, and admittedly sought pain-killers to alleviate that pain.
But my memory of him will remain that off a guy who always brought a friendly and positive attitude with him wherever he went ….