James “Froggy” Williams, a cornerstone of Rice’s 1949 Southwest Conference championship squad whose success on the field spurred the construction of Rice Stadium and whose individual achievements earned him induction to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965, has passed away at the age of 87.
“We have truly lost one of Rice’s greatest ambassadors,” Rice head football coach David Bailiff said. “Froggy represented some of the greatest moments from Rice’s past glories, but he was also here to celebrate our more recent success. He loved seeing Rice in back in bowl games and winning championships again. ”
Originally from Waco, Williams came to Rice in 1946 and saw action as a freshman on a Rice squad that shut out Tennessee 8-0 in the 1947 Orange Bowl. Three years later, he led the Owls to a Cotton Bowl win over North Carolina and concluded his career as Rice’s career leader with 156 points, a record that stood for 40 years an and ranks 9th through the 2014 season. His 75 career extra points remained the school record until 1998 and his total currently ranks fifth in school history.
As a senior, Williams earned consensus All-America honors at end while leading Rice to the first 10-win season in school history. After dropping a 14-7 decision at LSU in the second week of the season, Rice ran off seven consecutive wins and swept to the SWC title with a perfect 6-0 mark.
The highlight of the season was back-to-back wins at SMU and Texas when both were ranked 10th in the nation.
Facing the two-time SWC champion Mustangs and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker, Williams caught six passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns as Rice rallied for a 41-27 win. The following week, Texas stormed to a 15-0 lead and was poised to put the game out of reach just before halftime when Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone. Rice rallied to cut the deficit to 15-14 and then as time expired, Williams converted on the only field goal of his career to give the Owls a 17-15 win.
Rice concluded the season by thrashing North Carolina 27-14 and finished fifth in the final AP poll. The Owls lofty final ranking inspired an overwhelming demand for seats at the new Rice Stadium, which was still on the drawing board. Public demand was so great that plans were expanded and the construction timetable expedited, so that the 70,000 seat venue was completed in time for the 1950 season opener.
Williams was the second Rice player to earn induction into the College Hall of Fame when he was honored in 1965, joining former teammate Weldon Humble, who was inducted in 1961. Both players were members of the inaugural Rice Athletic Hall of Fame induction class in 1970 and he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. He was also named to the Cotton Bowl’s All Decade team for the 1950’s.
He was presented the Bob Quin Award as a senior at Rice as the school’s top senior student-athlete.
After graduation, Williams began a 37-year career in the oilfield service industry and later opened a successful air condition maintenance company until his retirement in 2008. He was also active with the Rice Historical Society and became , writing a number of articles on Rice Athletics. He was extensively featured in the 2011 video “The History of Rice Football”.
Funeral services for Williams will be held on Saturday, at 10AM at Chapelwood United Methodist Church, 11140 Greenbay Street in Houston, with a reception following. Graveside services for the immediate family will be held in his hometown of Waco later in the day.
In lieu of flowers, the Williams family has requested memorials be directed to the Bobby Wayne Cagle Scholarship at Rice, which was established in 2010 in the memory of Williams’ late grandson .