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Area legend Mike Tilleman dies at age 76

Lights' Stadium playing surface will be named Mike Tilleman Field


Last updated 9/21/2020 at 10:18am

Havre, Chinook, the Hi-Line. We've all lost one of the legendary athletes to ever be produced in these parts, as well as a longtime member of the community.

Mike Tilleman died Friday morning at the age of 76. Tilleman died not long after the Montana Board of Regents approved a request by Montana State University-Northern to name the new playing surface at the new Lights Stadium after Tilleman. The artificial surface will be officially named Mike Tilleman Field. Tilleman was recently honored at a ceremony at the stadium in Havre in which MSU-N Chancellor Greg Kegel said:

"Mike was the original push to bring football back to Northern," Kegel said in an interview earlier Wednesday. "To get a program up and running like that, it took a lot, and Mike was the one who made so much of that possible. He also started the NALSF Pheasant Jamboree Fundrasier, which has been so amazing, and raised so much money for the football program and for Northern athletics over the years. And he, of course, has been instrumental in helping us get this stadium project going. I mean, Mike has just done so much for Northern, and so much for the football program. And we are so grateful, so today is about honoring him and his family. We wanted him to be here for this moment, and to make sure we all get a chance to thank him and his family for everything he's done for Northern and the football program."

Tilleman was the son of Belgian immigrants who settled on a farm outside of Zurich. He had dozens of scholarship offers from around the country and chose Montana over Washington for college football, after a standout career in Chinook.

Tilleman was an All Big-Sky Offensive Lineman, who would eventually be elected into the Montana Grizzly Hall of Fame. He skipped his senior season in Missoula to enter the NFL Draft. Tilleman starred on four teams as a defensive tackle, led the league in tackles and sacks in 1972, and started in 148 of his 156 games - including the last 123. No Montana-born player started more NFL games. He was New Orleans' team MVP in 1970 and the Houston Oilers' MVP in '72. Tilleman earned the league's Brian Piccolo Award as the comeback player of the year in '72 after overcoming bowel cancer discovered during surgery to remove an appendix that ruptured during a handball game. Upon retirement after the 1976 season, he returned to the Hi-Line, opening Tilleman Motor Company first in Chinook and then Havre.

Tilleman is survived by his wife, Gloria, sons Craig (Wendy) and Chris (Crystal), daughter Suzanne (Jonathan Richter), and grandchildren Mackenzie, Sophie, Jackson, Colby and Griffin.

For much more on the life and career of Tilleman, see Monday's Havre Daily News.


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