Mike Tilleman, a member of the original New Orleans Saints team, died Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, at the age of 76.
Tilleman became one of the original Saints as the defensive tackle was selected by New Orleans in the 1967 expansion draft. In 1970, Tilleman had a breakout season and was awarded team MVP honors. He spent four seasons with the Saints, playing in 56 games (54 starts) from 1967-1970. Tilleman was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame and the Montana Football Hall of Fame.
The 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive tackle played 11 years in the NFL, suiting up for four teams. In his four years in New Orleans, Tilleman recorded four fumble recoveries and was an anchor for the defensive line.
"He didn't look as strong as he was," teammate Brian Schweda said. "Mike would just be able to toss people around like a rag doll. He was tough in the middle."
Tilleman was known for being a force on the defensive line. Tilleman's trademark head slap was so fierce, one opposing offensive lineman once said he'd rather catch flying javelins than be on the receiving end of the behemoth's legendary force.
"Coach knew I was one of those people who could not be intimidated," Tilleman said. "He liked my toughness."
Mike Tilleman was born on March 30, 1944 in Chinook, Mont., and was raised on a ranch outside of Zurich. He played at Chinook High, where he was a prep All-American. Tilleman played for the Montana Grizzlies in the 1960s and was a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection in both seasons he played. He left school early to enter the NFL Draft. He was selected with the 163rd pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 1965. In addition to the Saints and Vikings, Tilleman played for the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons.
"He was a character and a half," Schweda said. "He loved having a good time and was jolly to be around. Mike wasn't hard to get along with at all."
Tilleman was admired in Montana and was very involved in the community. He has been credited with restoring MSU-Northern football in 1999 after a 27-year absence. His annual Legends for the Lights celebrity pheasant hunt and two other fund-raisers have brought in more than $2 million for the Northern Lights Athletics Scholarship Foundation.
"We're not here without him," MSU-Northern coach Andrew Rolin told 406mtsports.com. "I've got a lot of gratitude for what he's done...He was an icon not just in Havre but the entire Hi-Line. There's no Northern football without the Tillemans, and without Mike Tilleman specifically. He had a huge impact on a lot of lives in this area."
After his playing career, Tilleman moved back to Montana. He ran Tilleman Motor Company and worked in the cattle industry.
Tilleman is survived by his wife, Gloria, along with children Suzanne, Christopher, and Craig.
Saints honor a member of the inaugural 1967 team, defensive tackle Mike Tilleman (#74) who passed away on September 18, 2020.