Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Les Bingaman
Eighty-seven years ago today was the birth date of Lester Alonza “Les” Bingaman, an Illini football letter winner from 1944 to ‘47.
At 6-foot-3, 300-plus pounds, the Gary, Ind., product was easily the biggest man on the team. He is said to have fluctuated between 340 and 370 pounds.
Earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors for coach Ray Eliot as a freshman tackle, Bingaman was one of several highly decorated players on Illinois’ 1946 Big Ten championship team. Among his Illini teammates were Alex Agase, Buddy Young, Mac Wenskunas, Ike Owens, Julie Rykovich, Ruck Steger and Sam Zatkoff. That team went on to wallop UCLA in the 1947 Rose Bowl, 45-14.
The Detroit Lions made Bingaman their third-round draft choice in the 1948 draft. His first two seasons in Detroit were disastrous, as the Lions won 6 of 24 games. However, 1950 saw the arrival of players like Bobby Layne, Doak Walker and Leon Hart, catapulting Detroit into becoming an almost-instant title contender.
In Bingaman’s final four seasons as a pro, the Lions won three division titles and two world championships.
“Bing was the strongest man I ever knew,” Hall of Fame teammate Lou Creekmur said.
Bingaman retired after the 1954 season, having been selected three times as All-NFL and playing twice in the Pro Bowl. He served as an assistant coach for several men, including Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins. Bingaman died at age 44 on Nov. 20, 1970, the result of a heart attack.
Sunday: Derek Holcomb, basketball (55)
Monday: Frank Alafoginis, golf (27)
Tuesday: Lindsey Carstens, soccer (27)
Wednesday: Anne Conway, volleyball (42)
Thursday: Doug Redmann, football (65)
Friday: Jason Higgins, football (36)
Saturday: Jim Brown, football (76)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore and assistant athletic director at Miami (Ohio)
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