Ben Williams, a defensive end for the Buffalo Bills who played ten seasons with the team in the 1970s and 1980s, passed away on Monday of natural causes. Williams was 65 years old.
Selected in the third round of the 1976 NFL Draft, Williams immediately made an impact, starting seven of the team’s 13 games during his rookie season. In total, Williams would go on to play in 147 regular-season games for the Bills, 140 of which were starts. He was a member of two playoff teams—the 1980 team that won the first AFC East Division title in Bills history and the 1981 team that won the first post-merger playoff game in Bills history.
While sacks did not become an official statistic until the 1982 season, Williams was an outstanding pass rusher. Officially, Williams notched 17.5 sacks in the final four years of his career. Ten of those sacks came in 1983, a season where he also notched an insane 103 tackles (per Sal Maiorana’s encyclopedia of Bills history, Relentless). Williams had 11 sacks in 1980 and added 10.5 more in 1981.
Williams made his only career Pro Bowl following the strike-shortened 1982 season. He had four sacks that year to go with 46 tackles in nine games. Williams retired on August 19, 1986, just one day after quarterback Jim Kelly signed his rookie contract with the club. According to Maiorana, Williams retired as Buffalo’s all-time leader in sacks with 51. He was also third in franchise history in total games played, having appeared in 150 contests when adding his three playoff games.
Williams was the first African-American player ever drafted out of Ole Miss, where he was named First-Team All-American in 1975. Along with James Reed, Williams was also one of the first African-American athletes to sign an athletic scholarship at Ole Miss. He still holds the Rebels’ record for sacks with 37 over his four-year career, including the Ole Miss single-season record, 18, which he achieved in 1973.
Williams is a member of the Ole Miss Hall of Fame, as well as the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He was named to the Bills’ Silver Anniversary team in 2010 as one of the team’s top-50 players in franchise history.
The Buffalo Bills’ official announcement describes Williams as “beloved” and “revered” by his former teams. His friendly demeanor led to the nickname “Gentle Ben.” Readers are encouraged to head over to the announcement from the team for further details about Williams such as how he made draft history or helped a young Bruce Smith.