Robert "Ben" Williams, the first black football player to get in a game for Ole Miss, died Monday in Jackson, Miss., at age 65.
He died of natural causes, according to the Rebels football program, which tweeted Monday, "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."
Williams, a defensive lineman who is still Ole Miss' all-time sack leader (37) and single-season sack leader (18), went on to a 10-year career for the Buffalo Bills.
Williams and running back James Reed broke the Ole Miss' football team's color barrier when they enrolled in 1971. However, while Williams played as a freshman in 1972, Reed didn't get onto the field until 1973.
The university named the front of its practice facility the Williams-Reed Football Foyer in a 2014 ceremony.
"Gentle Ben's impact on our university, the SEC and college football as a whole is immeasurable," Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said in a statement. "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."
Williams, a Yazoo City, Miss., native, graduated from Ole Miss in 1976 and was drafted by the Bills that year in the third round.
He went on to play left defensive end for Buffalo through 1985, recording 17.5 sacks, two interceptions and seven fumble recoveries in 147 games (140 starts). Williams made the Pro Bowl in 1982, and the next year he registered a career-high 10 sacks.
Williams was a businessman and charitable figure in Jackson following his playing days, and he helped create the Robert Ben Williams Minority Scholarship Endowment at Ole Miss in 1992.
Williams joined the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and he was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame four years later.
--Field Level Media