The Grave of Les Bingaman
by Randy Snow
Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Wednesday, April 19, 2023
In the NFL, there have been many “big” men who have played the game. One of the biggest was Lester Bingaman of the Detroit Lions. He weighed in at over 300 pounds during a playing career that saw him win two NFL titles in the Motor City. This was Gridiron Grave visit #45.
Les Bingaman was born on February 3, 1926 in McKenzie, TN. He went on to play college football at Illinois and helped lead the team to a 45-14 win over UCLA in the 1947 Rose Bowl. He was selected in the third round of the 1948 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. He played his entire career in Detroit and was a guard and center for seven seasons, from 1948-1954.
During training camp in 1954, head coach Buddy Parker and defensive coordinator Buster Ramsey got into a discussion over how much Bingaman really weighed. Up until then, his weight was only an estimate because the team did not have a scale that went over 300 pounds. Ramsey said Bingaman was under 350 and Parker said he was over 350. A steak dinner was on the line to the one who was correct. To determine his true weight, they took the six-foot-three Bingaman to the Ypsilanti Farm Bureau, that had a grain scale that went up to 400 pounds. He weighed in at 349 and a half pounds. However, it was later determined that the scale was not correctly set up, so his weight was actually closer to 375 pounds!
Bingaman played in three straight NFL title games from 1952-1954, winning two titles in 1952 and 1953.
After he retired as a player at the age of 28, he owned a bar in Detroit for a few years before returning to the Lions. From 1960-1964, Bingaman was the defensive line coach of the Lions under head coach George Wilson. He coached Detroit’s own version of the Fearsome Foursome that included Darris McCord, Roger Brown, Sam Williams and Alex Karras.
In 1966, George Wilson became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. He hired Bingaman to be his defensive line coach and he served in that position for four years, through 1969. When Don Shula became the head coach of the Dolphins in 1970, he kept Bingaman on as a special assistant to himself and Joe Thomas, the team’s player personnel director. Bingaman also served as a player scout. Shula was on the Lions coaching staff with Bingaman from 1960-1962.
On December 7, 1969, Bingaman collapsed on the sidelines after suffering a heart attack during a game against the Denver Broncos at the Orange Bowl. A year later, on November 20, 1970, Les Bingaman died in his sleep as the result of another heart attack at the age of 44.
The pallbearers at his funeral in McKenzie included Bill Stanfill, John Richardson, Manny Fernandez, and Jim Riley, who were all members of the Miami Dolphins defensive line that Bingaman coached for four years. Honorary pallbearers were former Detroit Lions teammates Bobby Layne and Cloyce Box and George Wilson, Jr. the son of the late Lions and Dolphins head coach. Nick Kerbawy, who was the general manager of the Detroit Lions from 1951-1957, was also in attendance.
Bingaman was enshrined in the Michigan Sports Hall-of-Fame in 1971.
Finding the Grave
Les Bingaman is buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in McKenzie, TN. The address is 9408 Cherrywood Avenue, McKenzie, TN 38201. Enter the cemetery from Cherrywood Road using the entrance by the flagpole. Turn immediately to the left then take the second right. Follow the road up the hill. Go past the first cross street and Bingaman’s grave will be on your left.