Position: Middle Linebacker
Team: Houston Oilers
Career: The inside linebacker is the guy on defense who seems to "mix it up" on every play. His job is to meet the ball carrier on every run, blitz the quarterback or drift into coverage on every pass. He’s an integral part of every defensive snap.
None was more effective at that for the Houston Oilers than Gregg Bingham, a gutty linebacker from Purdue who manned the middle in Columbia Blue for twelve seasons. Selected in the fourth round of the 1973 draft, Bingham was the only Oiler draft choice that year that panned out.
He wasn’t particularly big at 6’1" 230 lbs. He wasn’t exceptionally fast. He wasn’t exceptionally strong. What made Gregg stand out was his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. His 21 career regular-season interceptions are a testament to that. Bingham led Houston in tackles in every season but one.
Gregg started his Oiler career during the awful 1-13 season. Plugged into the new 3-4 defense of Bum Phillips the next year, Bingham swiped four enemy passes and helped shut down some of the league’s best rushers. In 1975, Gregg intercepted four more while the team built a 10-4 record. With Robert Brazile now at his side in the linebacking corps, the Oiler defense was third in the AFC in fewest points allowed.
Bingham scored the only touchdown of his career during the 1977 campaign, a year that saw the Oiler defense lead the AFC in fumbles forced and fumbles recovered.
The next two years were, of course, the ones remembered so fondly by Oiler fans. At age 27, Gregg was in his prime. Bingham continued to stick his hat in the pile as the Oilers rode into the AFC Championship game two years in a row. Although he didn’t intercept a pass during the 1978 regular season, Bingham picked off two tosses during the playoffs. He’d do the same the next year to Denver’s Craig Morton in the Wildcard game.
Gregg had one of those motors that never stopped. "To keep him out of the game, you’d have to cut his head off and hide it," admired Phillips.
Still, he never received the All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors you’d expect of someone who played so well. On defense, the accolades went to guys named Bethea, Culp and Brazile. At his position in the AFC were guys like Jack Lambert, Nick Buoniconti, Randy Gradishar and Willie Lanier. Bingham’s feats were often overlooked.
As the Oilers’ fortunes faded, Bingham weathered the storms as he always did, with hard-nosed consistent play. A fractured hip during the 1982 exhibition season caused him to miss two regular season contests, the only two he missed in his entire career, snapping a string of 134 games (in fairness, he would have missed more games were it not for the players strike that year).
Gregg retired after the 1984 season as Houston’s all-time leading tackler at 1,970. In a league where free agency and salary caps send most players packing within a few years, Bingham’s franchise record may never be broken.
Houston Highlight Having just grabbed a 10-9 lead against Miami late in the 1978 AFC Wild Card game, the Oiler defense took the field on the Miami 42 as the Dolphins tried to get into field goal range. On first down, Bob Griese looked to a Dolphin receiver on a 15-yard square in but Bingham reached up and picked off the pass at the Houston 46 before being tackled at the 50-yard line. From there, the Oilers punched it in to win, 17-9, their first postseason victory since 1961.