On Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills announced the passing of former wide receiver Mike Williams.
We are saddened to learn that former Bills Wide Receiver Mike Williams has passed away.— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 12, 2023
Our deepest condolences are with his friends and family. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/DfGtKkVxRQ
Williams, who was just 36 at the time of his passing, was originally from Buffalo, NY and played his college ball at Syracuse University before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Williams was a two-sport standout athlete at Riverside High School in Buffalo, excelling at both football and basketball as a teen. Former coach Tony Truilizio was quoted as saying that he “put Riverside on the map.”
In a show of loyalty, Williams chose Syracuse as the place he would play his college ball because they were the first to extend him an offer — and he got right to work proving his ability to play football at the next level. As a freshman, Williams had 24 receptions for the Orange and then added 60 catches for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. But that’s when things got a little rough.
Williams was suspended for the 2008 season after he was caught cheating on a test. Rather than switch things up and head to a D-I school, the wide receiver decided to make things right. He spent the next year at a community college in Massachusetts collecting Bs in three classes — the requirement for returning to Syracuse University.
When Williams returned to Syracuse, he caught 49 passes for 746 yards. But, after just seven games — and with three remaining in the season — Williams found himself off the team once again — this time for violating team rules. While his tumultuous time at Syracuse may have caused him to drop a round or two in the NFL Draft, his speed — Williams ran a 4.53 40-yard dash — kept him relevant.
Once in the NFL, Williams quickly made a name for himself, catching 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns his first year in the league — with him ending up second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Williams’ 11 touchdowns set a (then) single-season record for the Buccaneers and he would spend the next three seasons in Tampa Bay.
In 2011 and 2012, Williams put up good numbers again with 774 and 996 yards per season respectively. However, in 2013 his production dropped off (216 yards and 2 touchdowns) due to a torn hamstring, and that, along with some off the field issues (including being stabbed by his brother in a domestic violence incident as well as some legal issues in civil court), prompted the Bucs to trade him to the Buffalo Bills before the start of the 2014 season.
Back where he grew up, and reunited with former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, Williams said that, having grown up a Bills fan, he felt like he was living a dream and was excited for the fresh start. However, Buffalo had a deep receiver room with the like of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin on the roster and Williams wasn’t able to get his name in the regular rotation. He recorded just eight receptions in nine games for the Bills, but one of those was an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback EJ Manuel. The 6’2”, 221-pound, speedy wide receiver finished his career with 223 receptions for 3,089 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Last week, Williams was hospitalized at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. Although it was erroneously reported that he had passed away, the former wide receiver instead had been admitted to intensive care and was being treated for injuries from a construction accident. The accident, reportedly, had left Williams partially paralyzed and on life support after a steel beam had fallen on his head.
On September 8, Williams was taken off of a ventilator, which his mother, Mary Rosenthal, said was at his own request — but succumbed to his injuries four days later. Williams leaves behind an eight-year-old daughter.
While Williams’ career wasn’t long, and while he was taken from this earth too soon, both his career and his life were everything we expect from one of our own. He never let where he came from, mistakes he made, or struggles he experienced keep him down. He was always working for what he wanted; he fell; he got up; he did the things necessary to get back on track; he stared challenge in the eye and refused to back down; he didn’t take the easy way out; he took care of his family; he lived his dream. Mike Williams was Buffalo, in every aspect.