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Ole Miss to Retire Number of School’s First Black Football Player

Ole Miss announced Thursday that it will retire Ben Williams’s No. 74 jersey number when the Rebels face Mississippi State in the annual Egg Bowl on Nov. 24.

Williams was the first Black player to play in a football game at Ole Miss and among the first to sign a scholarship. Affectionately known as “Mr. Gentle” during his playing days, Williams becomes the fourth player in program history to have his number retired, joining Archie Manning (18), Chucky Mullins (38) and Eli Manning (10).

While at Ole Miss, Williams was a three-time All-SEC selection, a four-year letter winner and a member of the Rebels’ team of the century. He still owns the program’s record for career sacks (37) as well as the single-season mark for sacks (18).

In addition to his 377 career tackles during his time in the program, Williams was also voted by the student body what is now known as Mr. Ole Miss. Keith Carter, vice chancellor of the athletics at Ole Miss, said it is an honor to recognize Williams and his “immense impact” on the program.

“Few individuals in the history of our university have opened more doors for others than Ben [Williams],” Carter wrote in a statement. “In a year that our campus is celebrating 60 years of integration, the athletics department is excited to forever distinguish Ben—the player and the person—for breaking down walls in our football program and helping make Ole Miss what it is today.”

Following his stellar Ole Miss career, the Bills drafted Williams in the third round of the 1976 NFL draft, and he became the first Black athlete from Ole Miss selected in the draft. Williams spent 10 years in Buffalo where he played in 147 games and finished his career as the franchise’s leader in sacks (45.5) and was named to the Bills’ top 50 all-time players list.

He was inducted into the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. 

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