Ole Miss football is retiring the number of a program legend. The school announced that it will retire the No. 74 jersey number of defensive lineman Ben Williams, who was the first African American to play in a varsity game for Ole Miss.
The Rebels will retire Williams’ number during the Egg Bowl against in-state rival Mississippi State, when he will become the fourth Ole Miss player to have his number retired. Archie Manning (18), Chucky Mullins (38) and Eli Manning (10) are the other three.
Ole Miss vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics Keith Carter said the program wanted to honor the achievements of Williams while also acknowledging the trail he blazed for future Black athletes.
“It is our honor to recognize Gentle Ben and his immense impact by enshrining his No. 74 among the greats to ever wear the Red and Blue,” Carter said in a statement. “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.”
Williams played for the Rebels from 1972 to 1975 and earned first-team All-American honors in his final season with the program. Williams’ 37 career sacks still stand atop the record books at Ole Miss, and his 377 tackles are fourth all-time in school history.
The Buffalo Bills selected Williams in the third round of the 1976 NFL Draft, and he went on to play 10 years with the franchise. In 1983, Williams earned a Pro Bowl selection.
Williams, who died in 2020 at the age of 65, created an impactful legacy on and off the field in Oxford.