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Ole Miss to retire jersey number of first Black football player during Egg Bowl

Ben Williams
Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss has announced that it will be retiring the jersey number of Ben Williams, the first Black football player in program history during this year’s Egg Bowl on November 24.

Williams, commonly referred to as “Gentle Ben,” will be the fourth player in Ole Miss football history to have his number (74) retired, joining Rebel legends Archie Manning (18), Chucky Mullins (38), and Eli Manning (10).

“It is our honor to recognize Gentle Ben and his immense impact by enshrining his number 74 among the greats to ever wear the Red and Blue,” Ole Miss Athletics Director Keith Carter said. “Few individuals in the history of our university have opened more doors for others than Ben. 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.”

During his time in Oxford, Williams was a four-year letter winner for the Rebels and earned All-American honors, drawing a first-team distinction in 1975. Williams was also a three-time first-team All-SEC selection and member of Ole Miss’ Football Team of the Century.

Williams holds the program record for career sacks with 37, including an Ole Miss single-season record of 18 in 1973. Over his career, he racked up 377 tackles, including 116 throughout his senior year.

After graduating from college, the Buffalo Bills selected Williams in the third round of the 1976 NFL Draft, making him the first African-American athlete from Ole Miss to be drafted. Williams went on to have a 10-year NFL career where he received a Pro Bowl selection in 1983.

The Robert Ben Williams Minority Scholarship Endowment, which supports scholarships awarded for academic excellence, was established in 1992 to provide assistance for young Mississippians or lineal descendants of University of Mississippi alumni. Formerly known as the Minority Alumni Scholarship, this was the first fund to be established by the university’s African-American alumni.

Williams was inducted into the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. He was also named an SEC Legend in 2002 and was honored at the SEC Football Championship Game that year.

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