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Ole Miss retires with number 74 of Ben Williams, the first black player in the history of the program

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Ole Miss Football stops with a program legend’s song. The school has announced that it will withdraw the jersey number 74 from defending lineman Ben Williamswho was the first African American to play in a varsity match for Ole Miss.

The Rebels will retire Williams’ number at the Egg Bowl against in-state rival Mississippi State, when he will become the fourth Ole Miss player to retire his number. 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 Williams’ achievements while also recognizing the path he paved for future black athletes.

“It is our honor to recognize Gentle Ben and his immense impact by enshrining his number 74 among the greats who have ever worn 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 marks our campus 60 years of integration, the athletics department is delighted to forever distinguish Ben – the player and the person – for breaking down walls in our football program and help make Ole Miss what it is today.”

Williams played for the Rebels from 1972 to 1975, earning first-team All-American honors in his final season with the program. Williams’ 37 career sacks still top the record books at Ole Miss, and his 377 tackles are the fourth all-time in school history.

The Buffalo Bills selected Williams in the third round of the 1976 NFL Draft and he played with the franchise for 10 years. In 1983 Williams earned a Pro Bowl roster.

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Williams, who died in 2020 at age 65, created an impressive legacy on and off the pitch at Oxford.

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