Former Bills DE Ben Williams Dies at 65 from Natural Causes

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2020

ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 4:  Defensive linemen Ben Williams #77 and Dee Hardison #74 of the Buffalo Bills tackle quarterback Mike Kruczek #15 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a preseason game at Rich Stadium on August 4, 1979 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Former Buffalo Bills defensive end Ben Williams died from natural causes on Monday. He was 65.

Williams spent his entire NFL career (1976-85) with the Bills, registering 17.5 sacks between 1982 and '85 (the NFL didn't recognize sacks as an official stat until the 1982 season). Nicknamed Gentle Ben, he was a Pro Bowler in 1982 and posted 10 sacks in 1983. 

His former defensive line coach and defensive coordinator, Don Lawrence, described what made Williams so good during his career.

"One, because he has all the athletic ability in the world, and two, because he is one of the most dedicated, hard-working athletes I've ever been around," he said, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "Ben owns his own film projector and when he watches films, he actually plays the game in his mind. He'll study the guy who will be blocking him in the game and look for an edge."

Williams also made history before he was drafted by the Bills, becoming the first African American player alongside James Reed to play in a football game for Ole Miss, doing so in 1971. He is the school's all-time leader in sacks (37) and holds the single-season record (18). The entrance to Ole Miss' practice facility was named the Williams-Reed Football Foyer in 2014.

Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter released a statement following Williams' death, per Nick Suss of the Mississippi Clarion Ledger:

"Gentle Ben's impact on our university, the SEC and college football as a whole is immeasurable. Ben not only helped break the race barrier for our football program but was also the first African-American student to be elected by the student body for what is now known as Mr. Ole Miss. He was a great person, player and ambassador for our university and will forever be beloved by Rebel Nation."

Ole Miss Football @OleMissFB

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of one of the university’s groundbreaking students and iconic football players, "Gentle" Ben Williams. 🙏 📰 https://t.co/9Dvqzvbqzt https://t.co/21i5WEwrHT

He was named to the Bills Silver Anniversary team in 1984. After his playing career, he helped create the Robert Ben Williams Minority Scholarship Endowment, the "first scholarship that provided aid for descendants of African American alumni of Ole Miss," per Suss.