Legends: Klingbeil was a force to be reckoned with on gridiron
HOUGHTON — At every level he played at, hard work typified Chuck Klingbeil’s athletic career.
Whether it was in high school, college or the professional ranks, the late Houghton High product had to work for it.
Former HHS football coach Jim Luoma once said Klingbeil was the hardest working player he ever coached.
“(Klingbeil) was always ready to go,” Luoma said in an interview in 1995. “His goal was to improve and he certainly did that.”
After earning All-U.P. and All-State grid honors in his prep days, Klingbeil was recruited by Northern Michigan University.
He quickly earned a starter’s role for the Wildcats, his work ethic often noticed by the NMU coaching staff.
After college, there were no firm offers from the National Football League, and he decided to head to the Canadian Football League.
Former NMU teammate Bob Jurasin was already playing for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders.
“Bobby told me to come to training camp with him, so I did,” he said. “It turned out to be a good fit.”
The Rough Riders inserted him at defensive tackle and his play was instrumental in the team winning the Grey Cup (the CFL’s equivalent to the Super Bowl) in 1989.
Klingbeil was named Most Valuable Defensive player in the game. He had built himself to 6-foot-1, 295 pounds and, by now, was attracting attention from the NFL.
After one more year up north, he was signed by the Miami Dolphins in 1991. His work habits caught the eye of the Dolphins coaches.
Miami coach Don Shula had him starting at nose tackle by the start of the 1992 season.
“Chuck has really helped us solidify the interior of our line,” Shula said during that season. “Most of our opponents are having to double team him.”
Klingbeil didn’t hurt his chances when he recovered a fumble by Green Bay Packers quarterback Don Majkowski in the end zone in his first season for a touchdown. The points were the winning margin in Shula’s record-breaking 300th win.
“That play was one of those things,” Klingbeil said. “(Majkowski) just dropped the football … and it fell at my feet. It was like a Christmas present lying there.”
Klingbeil started for four seasons in Miami until he sustained a serious injury. During that time NFL Hall of Famer “Mean Joe” Greene was his defensive line coach.
“I learned an awful lot from Joe, who really knew everything about the position,” he said later.
Even though he was never able to get back into the NFL, Klingbeil stayed close to the game.
That included coaching stints with NMU, Michigan Tech and Finlandia University.
Former Tech head coach Tom Kearly said his work was impressive.
“(Klingbeil) was a hands-on type of coach,” Kearly said. “He had the respect of our staff and players. He did a really fine job here.”
Incidentally, Klingbeil was also a very good hockey player, earning all-league and all-state laurels at Houghton High.
There were also some strong athletic genes in his background. His grandfather, Ike, was a great all-around athlete. Klingbeil’s father, Bob, was a football and basketball standout at Hancock. Klingbeil’s uncle, Chuck Lucchesi, starred in football at Hancock and MTU.
Klingbeil is a member of the NMU and U.P. Sports Hall of Fame.
Klingbeil died of a heart attack in 2018. He was 52 years old.