By Tim Leeds
Mike Tilleman, Havre business owner and former NFL All-Pro player, will be the featured speaker at the third Heritage Center celebrity luncheon next Wednesday.
Tilleman will present "An Inside View of the NFL," starting at noon in the old courtroom on the third floor of the Heritage Center.
Tilleman, known as "Big Mike," "Big Timber Mike" and "Tilly" by fellow NFL players, grew up on farms near Zurich and south of Chinook. His family, originally farmers from Belgium, raised beef cattle, dairy cattle and wheat in Blaine County.
Tilleman played both basketball and football while attending Chinook High School, earning All-American honors his senior year. He graduated at age 16 and went on to graduate from the University of Montana while playing as an offensive and defensive tackle for the UM Grizzlies. Tilleman took 69 credits 20 or more than the normal load his senior year to earn his bachelor's degree.
While at UM, Tilleman earned All Big Sky Conference player honors, and was voted most valuable player his senior year.
After he was drafted as a future choice by the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL and the Denver Broncos of the AFL, Tilleman passed on his fifth year of college eligibility and joined the Vikings in 1965.
In his 12 years in the NFL, Tilleman won numerous honors while playing for several teams. He saw limited play with the Vikings in 1966, then joined the New Orleans Saints, then an expansion team, for the next four years.
Tilleman played for the Houston Oilers for two years, then moved to the Atlanta Falcons, where he played until he retired, at the top of his game, in 1977.
" it's better for you to end your career at a point where it's your prerogative and not someone else's," Tilleman said. "It's a tremendous mental asset to be able to say you walked out on success."
Tilleman came back from surgery to play in the 1969 season with the Saints. During an operation to remove a burst appendix, doctors found cancer and had to operate to remove that.
"(Tilleman) fared well," a Saints representative said at the time. "He's quite strong and has boundless enthusiasm."
Another operation was required because of an abscess caused by the cancer surgery.
Tilleman came back to lead the league in quarterback sacks in the 1972 season, and received the Brian Piccolo Award for his comeback.
Tilleman and his wife, Gloria, moved back to Chinook in 1977. In June of 1977 he bought Taylor Chevrolet in Chinook. At the direction of General Motors, he said, he closed Taylor's, bought out Angstman Motors in Havre and moved the Chinook dealership to Havre as Tilleman Motor Co.
Gary Wilson, vice president of the Clack Foundation, said Tilleman is a down-to-earth guy with a big heart who loves the Hi-Line. He and his wife continue a tradition of philanthropy he started in his football days, supporting many causes.
"Although known for his outgoing social side," Wilson said, "he has a modest, almost shy quality about himself that is quite refreshing."
Tickets for the luncheon and presentation cost $15. People planning to attend are asked to RSVP as early as possible to determine the amount of lunches needed. For tickets, call the Heritage Center at 265-7258.