Elmer H. Wingate Jr., who played one season with the Baltimore Colts in 1953 and was an All-American football and lacrosse player at the University of Maryland, College Park, died on Feb. 27 of Alzheimer's disease. He was 87.
Mr. Wingate stayed in touch with many former Colts players and later served on a committee that helped bring the statute of Colts legend Johnny Unitas to the entrance of M&T Bank Stadium. He was inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.
Mr. Wingate played defensive end in the National Football League when the sport was held in less esteem than baseball, five years before the Colts would play what became known as the Greatest Game Ever Played against the New York Giants. He wasn't paid well, and with the arrival of a new baby, Mr. Wingate decided to try a new career working as a salesman for the National Brewing Co., which at that time brewed National Bohemian and Colt 45.
The former football player remained humble about his NFL experience, his son Ken Wingate said.
"When we were in our house, any trophies, any awards he ever had, it was tucked away in a closet, we never saw it," Ken Wingate said. "He didn't want that to influence us in any way, so when he talked about football he would talk about other people and how great they were."
Mr. Wingate grew up in the Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore and attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. His father owned a one-chair barbershop on Harford Road, and his mother was a homemaker.
For the Terps, Mr. Wingate played both offensive and defensive end positions from 1948 to 1951, and scored the second touchdown ever made in Byrd Stadium, which was recently renamed Maryland Stadium. He was part of two Gator Bowl appearances. It was at Maryland that he discovered lacrosse, in which he earned the All-American ranking twice.
At UM, Mr. Wingate met former Sen. Joseph Tydings, who became the best man at his wedding and a lifelong friend.
In college, Tydings said, "Elmer was very outgoing, an extraordinarily handsome guy at the university and all through life. Almost movie-star good looks. On campus all of the very attractive coeds had their eye on Elmer, but he had his sweetheart" back home in Baltimore.
Mr. Wingate married the former Jeaneen Brady in 1951. At the time, he was in active duty in the Air Force, where he also played for the military football team and helped win the Service Championship in 1952 and 1953.
Wingate — listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, according to the NFL — would play 12 games for the Colts in 1953 when the primary statistic for a defensive end — the sack — wasn't even recognized.
Though he had gotten offers to keep playing, Mr. Wingate left the NFL because of the low pay.
"It was just past the time when football players had to have full-time jobs," Mr. Tydings said. "You have to think of your family, that was my counsel to him at the time."
As a sales rep for National Brewing, Mr. Wingate knew "every bar between Baltimore and Florida, and from Baltimore to the north," Ken Wingate said.
In 1962, he joined New England Financial as a life insurance agent.
The Morning Sun
In addition to his love of football, Mr. Wingate enjoyed taking his grandchildren to get ice cream in his home of Stoneleigh, going to the beach in the summer and out-decorating his neighbors at Christmas. His sons said he won a couple of awards in the neighborhood for the best Christmas decorations.
Mr. Wingate was active at Grace United Methodist Church, and would sometimes convince former Colts to visit congregants during Bible study. Gregarious and outgoing, he maintained lifelong friendships, his sons said.
"It was not uncommon for us to introduce ourselves to somebody, for them to figure out who we were, and the first comment out of their mouth would be, 'I love your dad,'" said Dave Wingate, another son.
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, at the Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St., Baltimore, with a reception immediately following the service.
Mr. Wingate is survived by his wife of 64 years, three sons: Ken, Paul and David; and seven grandchildren.