Selected in 1990 by University of Illinois fans as a member of the 25-man All-Century Team was Chuck Bennis, a 1930s standout player for coach Bob Zuppke.
The Lincoln native was elected co-captain of UI’s 1934 squad and also lettered as an end and a guard the previous two seasons. Each of the three Illini teams he played on posted winning overall records, but the ’34 squad was clearly the best. Consecutive victories over Ohio State (14-13), Michigan (7-6) and Army (7-0) highlighted Illinois’ 7-1 record that year. Only a 7-3 defeat at Wisconsin blemished an otherwise perfect mark.
In his book entitled “Illinois, Zup and I,” Bennis said his greatest individual game was the ’34 contest at Michigan. During that one-point victory in Ann Arbor, he recovered two fumbles, one on the Michigan 10-yard line that gave the Illini their first scoring opportunity. He also tackled Wolverine runners six times for losses and finished the game with 15 tackles.
Among Bennis’ Illini teammates were first-team All-Big Ten halfback Gil Berry and quarterback Jack Beynon. Bennis himself won second-team all-star honors in 1934.
He graduated from Illinois in 1935 with a degree in education, turning down an opportunity to play for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Bennis coached at Lincoln High School, then became as assistant for Zuppke at Illinois. He got out of coaching and began work as a coal miner. From 1942-44 during World War II, Bennis enrolled with the U.S. Navy, spending nine months in the Pacific and serving aboard four aircraft carriers. His primary role was as a communications officer for two admirals.
Upon his discharge, he became president of the Pluto Corporation of French Lick, Ind. Bennis also had a stint at acting, appearing in the R.K.O. movie entitled “The Big Game.” He eventually turned to farming.
Forty-one years ago on Sunday, he became the ninth former Illini honored with the Varsity I Achievement Award, joining such illustrious individuals as Buddy Young, Ray Eliot and George Halas.
Chuck Bennis died in 2006 at the age of 95.
Sunday: A.J. Jenkins, football (30)
Monday: David Kendziera, track & field (25)
Tuesday: Revie Sorey, football (66)
Wednesday: Stanley Green, football (21)
Thursday: Jim Juriga, football (55)
Friday: Mark Avery, track & field (63)
Saturday: Sean Patrick, baseball (38)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.