Tuesday, May 19, 2020

R.I.P. Gentle Ben Williams—Great Guy, Good Player

By John Turney 
Longtime Bills defensive end Ben Williams passed away on Monday of natural causes in Jackson, Mississippi. He was 65.

Ben Williams was the first African-American to play football at Old Miss, he did so because he said he thought it would help race relations in his native Mississippi. He was right. In addition to being one of the best players in school history (SEC All-Freshman Team, and All-SEC his sophomore, junior and senior seasons) he was one of the most popular people on the campus not only being the team captain being voted by the student body as Colonel Reb, the University’s highest elective honor.

He was a defensive tackle until his senior year when he moved to middle guard and his coach said he was "the finest lineman in the county. He dominates the line". He is the school's all-time leader in sacks (37) and also holds the single-season record of 18 in 1973. 

He led Rebels in tackles as a senior with 116, recorded a team-best 96 tackles as a junior, and had 111 in 1973, his sophomore season, totaling 377 for his career.

Williams was inducted into the Ole Miss and Mississippi sports halls of fame, and he was selected an SEC Legend in 2002. He has also been inducted into The University of Mississippi’s M-Club Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the University’s Award of Distinction.

Prior to his Rebel career, Williams was a two-year letter winner and was the 1971 team captain at Yazoo City High School. He also captained the North team in the 1972 Mississippi High School All-Star game.
The Bills took Williams on the third round of the 1976 NFLDraft and he became a starter in his rookie season and held the left defensive end position through the end of his career. He was solid his first two years, learning his position but in 1979 the Bills changed to a 3-4 defense, and Williams said the team had to "grow into the scheme". 

In 1980 they, and he, and they did. He had 12 sacks, and four forced fumbles, 64 tackles and was voted Second-team All-AFC and the Bill made the playoffs. 

The Bills made the playoffs again in 1981 and Williams had a twin season to 1980 again making Second-team All-AFC making 70 tackles and 10 sacks and a forced fumble and sharing in another plus a safety.

In 1982 he was Second-team All-Pro, as well as Second-team All-AFC. From 1980-83 he averaged 69 tackles, 10 sacks, and 2.5 forced fumbles a full season and receiving post-season honors in three of those four seasons including a Pro Bowl in 1982.

In 1985 he was a mentor to Bruce Smith, teaching the young, future Hall of Famer how to transition for college to the NFL and how to use his hands in the pass rush and other tricks of the trade.

Williams was very athletic, quick, and nimble, even though he didn't look athletic, He had kind of a sway back and a "buddha" appearance with a slightly bulging stomach and flat feet. However, he had good balance and was a tremendously hard worker.

He had his own film projector at home and studied opponents and did extra work after practice to prepare for games. In many ways, he was a self-made man on and off the football field.

He ended his career with 572 tackles and 52 sacks and eleven forced fumbles. 
After earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1976 Williams became a businessman and owner of LYNCO Construction Company in Jackson (member of the Association of Building Contractors).

Williams has served his family, community (he was active in the Easter Seals Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Association), and alma mater (he helped create the Robert Ben Williams Minority Scholarship Endowment, the "first scholarship that provided aid for descendants of African American alumni of Ole Miss") 

He was a recipient of the Ralph L. Wilson Leadership Award and was a member of the Bills Silver Anniversary Team.

Career stats—

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