Former Falcon Mike Tilleman dies at 76

New Orleans Saints running back James Ford (28) jumps into the arms of a waiting  Houston defensive tackle Mike Tilleman (78) on Oct. 3, 1971, in Houston. (Ed Kolenovsky/AP)
New Orleans Saints running back James Ford (28) jumps into the arms of a waiting Houston defensive tackle Mike Tilleman (78) on Oct. 3, 1971, in Houston. (Ed Kolenovsky/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Mike Tilleman, a member of the Atlanta Falcons from 1973-76, died Friday at the age of 76.

Tilleman, a 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive tackle, played 11 seasons in the NFL after being drafted out of Montana by the Minnesota Vikings in the 12th round of the 1965 NFL draft. He was also drafted by the Denver Broncos of the AFL.

Tilleman had returned home to Havre, Mont., in mid-August after spending nearly six months in hospitals due to complications related to a heart condition, according to the Billings (Mont.) Gazette.

He was one of the original members of the New Orleans Saints after being selected in the 1967 expansion draft.

In his years with the Falcons, Tilleman started 53 games. Over his career, he played in 149 NFL games, starting 137.

He played for the Saints from 1967-70. He played two seasons with Houston before being traded to the Falcons for a 1973 first-round draft pick (14th overall).

Tilleman was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame and the Montana Football Hall of Fame.

Tilleman had a trademark head slap, then legal. His slap upside the offensive lineman’s helmet was so fierce that an opposing offensive lineman once said he’d rather catch flying javelins than to get smacked by Tilleman.

“Of course, in that era, it was not easy for a defensive tackle to get any All-Pro or even Pro Bowl mention with names like Bob Lilly, Merlin Olsen, Alan Page, and Joe Greene in the NFL and in their prime,” according to the Pro Football Journal blog. “Also in the NFL were up-and-comers like Curley Culp and Mike Reid. So Tilleman’s seasons from 1970-73, which were very good, went little-noticed though he averaged 90 tackles and seven sacks a season.”

Tilleman was born on March 30, 1944, in Chinook, Mont.

After his playing career, Tilleman moved back to Montana. He ran Tilleman Motor Co. and worked in the cattle industry. He was heavily involved with charity work and community service in Montana.

Tilleman is survived by his wife, Gloria, along with children Suzanne, Christopher, and Craig.

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