Bingaman on a 1954 Bowman football card
|Date of birth||February 3, 1926|
|Place of birth||McKenzie, Tennessee|
|Date of death||November 20, 1970(aged 44)|
|Position(s)||Middle guard, tackle|
|NFL draft||1948 / Round: 3/ Pick 15|
|Career highlights and awards|
Lester Alonza "Bingo" Bingaman (February 3, 1926 – November 20, 1970) was an American football player and coach. He played college football at the University of Illinois from 1944 to 1947 and professional football in the National Football League for the Detroit Lions from 1948 to 1954. He earned trips to the Pro Bowl after the 1951 and 1953 seasons. He was also selected as a first-team All Pro player four consecutive years from 1951 to 1954. At times weighing as much as 350 pounds, Bingaman was the heaviest player in the NFL during his playing career. He later worked as an assistant coach for the Detroit Lions from 1960 to 1964 and for the Miami Dolphins from 1966 to 1969.
Bingaman enrolled at the University of Illinois and played college football at the tackle position for the Fighting Illini footbal team from 1944 to 1947. He was the starting right tackle for the 1946 Illinois Fighting Illini football team that won the Big Ten Conference championship, was ranked #5 in the final AP Poll, and defeated #4 UCLA in the 1947 Rose Bowl.
Professional football player
Bingaman was selected by the Detroit Lions in the third round (15th overall pick) of the 1948 NFL Draft, signed with the Lions in June 1948, and played for the team, principally at the middle guard position on defense, for seven years from 1948 to 1954. He appeared in 78 NFL games and was selected as a second-team All Pro in 1950 and a first-team All Pro in 1951 (AP), 1952 (UP), 1953 (AP, UP), and 1954 (AP, UP, TSN). He was also chosen to play in the Pro Bowl after the 1951 and 1953 seasons. He was a member of the Lions' NFL championship teams in 1952 and 1953. In August 1954, he weighed in at 349-1/2 pounds, with the Lions having to use the scale at a grain elevator to capture his weight. According to one account published in 1960, he was "the biggest man who ever played professional football". At the end of the 1954 season, Bingaman announced that he was retiring at age 29, noting that it was "getting tougher every year to get in shape."
After retiring as a player, Bingaman took a job working in public relations for Goebel Brewing Company in Detroit. He also owned a bar in Detroit. He testified in a 1957 drunk driving case against former teammate Bobby Layne that he had served Layne six or seven scotch and waters, but nevertheless believed that Layne "was very capable of driving." Layne was found not guilty. Bingaman also testified that the Scotch he served had "practically no alcoholic proof," prompting one Detroit columnist to write, "Greater love hath no man than he should ruin his business for a friend."
In 1959, he sold his bar, and in 1960 he was hired as an assistant coach by the Detroit Lions. He replaced Buster Ramsey as the Lions' defensive line coach under head coach George Wilson. He served for five years as the Lions' defensive line coach, leading a group that became known as the Fearsome Foursome (Roger Brown, Alex Karras, Darris McCord, and Sam Williams) and was acknowledged as one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. After the Lions compiled a 7–5–2 record in 1964, team owner William Clay Ford, Sr. fired five assistant coaches, including Bingaman.
In February 1966, after spending 1965 working as an NFL scout, Bingaman was hired as an assistant coach by the Miami Dolphins. He rejoined his former boss, George Wilson, who took over as the Dolphins' head coach one week earlier. In January 1967, Bingaman rejected an offer from Joe Schmidt to return to the Lions, opting remain with George Wilson in Miami. On December 7, 1969, he collapsed on the sidelines during a game against the Denver Broncos. He had no pulse or heartbeat for three minutes and had to be revived with a shot of adrenaline injected into his heart. He was diagnosed as having suffered "an irregularity of the heart-beat which caused him to go into temporary shock."
After the 1969 season, George Wilson was fired by the Dolphins and replaced by Don Shula. In February 1970, Shula offered Bingaman "a position involving special assignments." He spent the year as a special assistant, scouting college players for the Dolphins.
Family and death
Bingaman was married in 1949 and divorced in 1956. His wife alleged in the 1956 divorce proceedings that Bingaman "beat her, neglected her and made her feel unwanted." He later remarried, and he and his second wife, Betty, had a son, Lester Bingaman III.
Bingaman suffered from weight issues after retiring as a player. In 1963, he lost 86 pounds in four months, reducing to 225 pounds. He suffered congestive heart failure in early 1968 and began dieting anew. He then collapsed on the sideline of a Dolphins' game in December 1969. In November 1970, he died in his sleep from a heart attack at age 44.
- "Les Bingaman". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
- "They're Going To Be Tough - Those Illini, Says INS Writer". The Tifton Daily Tribune. September 19, 1944. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.
- Raymond Johnson (September 17, 1947). "One Man's Opinion". The Tennessean. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Lions Sign Illini Star: Bingaman One of 5 to Accept Contracts". Detroit Free Press. June 13, 1948. p. 4C – via Newspapers.com.
- "Ram End Is Only Unanimous Choice On AP All-Pro Team". Altoona (PA) Tribune. January 9, 1952. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
- "AP All-Pro Football Team". The Evening Independent (Massillon, OH). December 24, 1953. p. 15 – via Newspapers.com.
- "AP All-Pro Grid Team". The Tennessean. December 30, 1954. p. 19 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Elevator Scales Put Bingaman, Lions' Star, at 349-1/2 Pounds". Logansport (IN) Pharos-Tribune. August 7, 1954. p. 10 – via Newspapers.com.
- Dave Lewis (January 23, 1960). "Bingaman Returns to Lions as Coach". Independent (Long Beach, CA). p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Luck Ran Out, Parker Says After Defeat". The Times Record (Troy, NY). December 27, 1954. p. 20 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Les Bingaman Gets Divorce". Ironwood Daily Globe. August 29, 1956. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com.
- "His Drawl Wins Layne Freedom". Detroit Free Press. December 7, 1957. pp. 1, 2 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Les Bingaman Gets Buster Ramsey's Job". The Escanaba (MI) Daily Press. January 13, 1960. p. 12 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Wilson Keeps His Post; 5 Assistants Are Fired". The Holland (MI) Evening Sentinel. December 22, 1964. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Bingaman Back with Wilson". Detroit Free Press. February 3, 1966. p. 3D – via Newspapers.com.
- Joe Dowdall (January 20, 1967). "Bingaman Says No to Lion Job". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D – via Newspapers.com.
- "Les Bingaman Collapses at Dolphins' Game". The Decatur (IL) Daily Review. December 8, 1969. p. 14 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Wilson Gets Ax: Miami Hires Shula". The Palm Beach Post. February 19, 1970. p. C1 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Sport Shorts". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. February 25, 1970. p. 8B.
- Tony Petrella (November 21, 1970). "Dolphin Aide Succumbs". The Palm Beach Post. p. C5 – via Newspapers.com.
- George Puscas (August 21, 1963). "Here's How Bingaman Lost 86 Pounds: Want a Sure-Fire Diet, Folks?". Detroit Free Press. p. 2D – via Newspapers.com.