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A Hall of Fame Career

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By Jack DeGange

It was a Friday afternoon in early November 1972. Coach Jake Crouthamel was thinking about Saturday's game against Columbia when a pro football scout dropped by his office to ask about any pro prospects he should be looking at the next day.

"I told him to go out and watch the freshman game being played that afternoon," Crouthamel recalled, "and to watch Reggie Williams. The scout came back to my office after the game and told me I was right.

"Reggie was a pro prospect' even as a freshman."

Over the next three varsity seasons at Dartmouth, from 1973-75, the 6-1, 215-pound linebacker demonstrated the talent that ranks him with the Ivy League's all-time greatest players.

That collegiate career, validated by the following 14 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, is the reason Williams is being honored on Memorial Field today with recognition that is a prelude to the National Football Foundation's annual dinner in New York City on December 4 when Dartmouth's All-America linebacker joins 11 other All-Americans and two coaches from across the nation in the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2007.

Williams is the 13th Dartmouth player, coach or athletic administrator to be recognized with induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

It's been a long road to the pinnacle of college football. Growing up in Flint, Mich., Williams overcame a severe hearing disability to become an outstanding student-athlete at Southwestern High School. His goal was to attend the University of Michigan but Coach Bo Schembechler felt Williams was too small to play football in the Big Ten Conference.

His academic record had drawn the attention of Dartmouth's coaching staff but when he arrived in Hanover in the fall of 1972, Williams was laden with uncertainty, academically and athletically.

The doubts were erased quickly. Crouthamel and freshman coach Jerry Berndt (who would also be his wrestling coach at Dartmouth), switched Williams from running back to middle linebacker.

"They made the best personnel decision of my athletic career," said Williams. "Jake believed in my ability. Jerry was the bridge who established my confidence and Rick Taylor (the Big Green's linebacker coach) taught me discipline and leadership.

"I probably would have been happy at Michigan but my expectations wouldn't have been realized if I hadn't come to Dartmouth."

Williams broke into the varsity lineup as a sophomore in 1973, helping Dartmouth win an unprecedented fifth straight Ivy League title (1969-73). He became the Ivy's most dominant defensive player, using his speed, instincts and intelligence to cover the field from sideline to sideline and become a three-time All-Ivy first team selection.

"Reggie played a hundred miles an hour on every play, at a different speed than anyone else," said Crouthamel. His career total of 243 unassisted tackles remains a Dartmouth record and his 370 total tackles ranks second all-time for the Big Green. He also had four interceptions.

No one remembers Williams better than Dean Calland, a 6-5 tight end at Yale in 1975. When they lined up, Calland recalled his strategy: block Williams and, in the process, jam his helmet into Williams' face.

That's not how the play unfolded. Williams obliterated Calland, stepping on his face as he charged in to make the tackle.

Calland came to the bench and a Yale coach said, "Calland, if you can't stop that guy we'll have to get someone else in there!"

Calland's reply, which was met with silence: "And who would that be, coach?"

Later in the game, when Yale lined up for a field goal, Calland recalled, "He jumped right over me. I'm 6-5 and he didn't touch me."

Williams was named to every All-Ivy, All-East and All-New England team in 1974 and 1975. In 1975 he was named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America team. Invited to three post-season college all-star games in 1975, he played in the Hula Bowl and the Japan Bowl.

The Ivy League's heavyweight wrestling champion in 1975, Williams completed his degree requirements as a psychology major after the fall term of 1975-76 and was unable to defend his wrestling title in 1976.

Undersized by today's football standards (his playing weight as a pro was 228 pounds), Williams was selected by the Bengals in the third round of the NFL draft in 1976 and proved himself with his selection to the NFL's all-rookie team that fall when he was the Bengals' co-leader in tackles with 106. During his 14-year pro career, Williams had a hand in 1,164 tackles (865 unassisted) and 62.5 sacks. He had 11 sacks in 1981 when the Bengals had a 12-4 record and played in Super Bowl XVI. Williams also played in Super Bowl XXIII in 1989.

After retiring from the NFL, Williams was an executive in pro football with New Jersey in the World League of American Football, then returned to the NFL to conceive and open the league's first Youth Education Town in Los Angeles.

In 1993, Williams joined the Walt Disney Company and championed efforts to grow Disney's involvement in sports, particularly amateur sports. In the mid-1990s he oversaw the creation of Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, the state-of-the-art multi-sport facility that opened in 1997. Since 1998, he has been vice president of Disney Sports Attractions, the nation's preeminent resource that annually hosts about 225,000 athletes of all ages in amateur and pro sports.

"My parents (Eli and Julia Williams, who still live in Flint) instilled in me that education is the path to success," said Williams. "Mental preparation that I learned in the classroom and on the football field at Dartmouth helped me in pro football and throughout my career."

Jack DeGange, a freelance writer, was sports information director at Dartmouth from 1968-77.