MIKE WILLIAMS BY THE NUMBERS:
|CATEGORY||No.||UNM Rank (1978)||Current UNM Rank|
|Consecutive 100-yard games||6 (1976-77)||1||1|
|Single-game attempts||47 (vs. UTEP, 1977)||1||1|
|Single-game yards||236 (vs. UTEP, 1977)||1||5|
|Season attempts||265 (1977)||1||4|
|Season yardage||1,240 (1976)||1||4|
|Career rushing TDs||27||1||5|
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
Less than two months after the University of New Mexico football program added one player to the select list of retired-jersey honorees as the definitive example of Lobo football, it said good-bye to another.
Former Lobo standout running back Mike Williams died of heart failure on Dec. 23 in El Paso. He was 56 years old.
On the night Nov. 2, 2013, former University of New Mexico All-America football player Brian Urlacher stood on Branch Field at University Stadium, watching a video tribute as UNM retired his No. 44 jersey and put his name across the exterior press box/suites structure on the west concourse.
He joined Don Perkins (No. 43), Bobby Santiago (No. 42) and Williams (No. 40) on the list of Lobo Legends with retired jerseys.
In the weeks and days leading up to Urlacher’s ceremony, as well as during the event itself, an interesting development took shape. Of the four Lobo Legends, Williams’ name seemed to be the biggest mystery. Almost every knowledgeable Lobo football fan knew or had heard of the accomplishments of running backs Perkins (1957-59) and Santiago (1960-62) and safety Urlacher (1996-99), all of whom earned All-America honors during their UNM careers.
It seemed that less was known about Williams’ Lobo career.
When current Lobo coach Bob Davie took over the Lobo program in December of 2011, he said he knew UNM wasn’t going to “out-star” marquee programs in recruiting, meaning that the Lobos weren’t going to win battles against BCS schools for blue-chip athletes. UNM, Davie said, has to find diamonds in the rough, tough-minded players that the school can develop.
Williams fit that mold.
“His contribution to the Lobos during his time was unbelievable,” said Walt Arnold, Williams’ teammate at UNM who went on to play eight years as an NFL tight end, to the Albuquerque Journal. “I remember coming in as a freshman how hard he worked, how dedicated he was to being the best. You couldn’t have a better, more dynamic player and leader than Mike Williams.”
After an inspection of his time at UNM from 1975-78, Williams really is the quintessential Lobo – an unheralded player coming out of high school whose work ethic helped him overachieve during his career.
According to the old UNM media guide, Williams was a 6-foot-2, 190-pound fullback and linebacker at Parkland High School in El Paso, Texas. He was also an All-District hurdler. A knee injury forced him to miss his senior season, scaring off most schools – including hometown Texas-El Paso.
Williams burst onto the scene as a Lobo freshman in 1975 in an Oct. 25 game against undefeated and 13th-ranked Arizona. Williams ran 22 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns as the Lobos upset the Wildcats 44-34 in Tucson.
According to a UNM media guide, Williams ran nine times for 59 yards on the Lobos’ final drive of the game, scoring on a 4-yard run to help the visitors ice the upset victory.
He ended up leading UNM with 511 rushing yards in 1975, scoring five touchdowns.
If Williams burst onto the scene in 1975, he made himself known as one of the Western Athletic Conference’s biggest weapons in 1976.
Williams led the league in rushing with a then-school record 1,240 yards. He rushed for 206 yards against Utah and had 161 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against UTEP, his hometown school that overlooked him as he was coming out of high school.
The fullback earned his first All-Western Athletic Conference honors.
He returned for his junior season in 1977 and topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season despite missing the final two games with a knee injury. Williams rushed for 1,096 yards to lead the WAC and earn his second all-conference honor.
He again showed his hometown team what they were missing during a Nov. 25 game that season. Williams set a school and WAC record with 47 carries for a school-record 236 yards as the Lobos beat the Miners 33-17 at University Stadium.
The 47 carries to this day remains the UNM single-game record.
The 1978 Lobo media guide may have hinted to the secret behind Williams’ endurance and durability when it mentioned that prior to the season, he “worked as a butcher over the summer slinging 200-pound sides of beef.”
Entering his senior season at a robust 225 pounds, Williams produced his third 1,000-yard rushing effort. Williams’ 1,045 yards and nine TDs on 213 carries earned him his third straight All-WAC honor.
He rushed for a season-high 173 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries during the Lobos’ 35-20 over New Mexico State on Oct. 21.
Williams ended his UNM career as the all-time leader rusher at the school and in the WAC with 3,862 yards. The conference mark stood for eight years; the school record remained until DonTrell Moore broke it in 2005.
The El Paso native also held school records in career touchdowns (31) and rushing attempts (857) when he left UNM after the 1978 season. Williams actually broke the record for carries his junior year. His four-year total of 857 was 388 more than the previous school record-holder Dave Bookert, who had 475 carries from 1967-69.
Of the top-20 rushing performances in school history through 1978, Williams owned six of them.
“Really, the way everything revolved around him and his ability to carry the football was probably unmatched,” Arnold said to the Journal.
Williams shared WAC Player of the Year honors with Brigham Young quarterback and future Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl-winning QB Jim McMahon in ’78. UNM retired his No. 40 right after his senior season.
Williams went on to have a three-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs after being selected in the eighth round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He rushed for 261 yards and one touchdown and had 16 receptions for 129 yards and two TDs during his rookie season.
Knee injuries shortened his professional career.
Later in life, he experienced health problems, his family told KTSM-TV in El Paso. Despite his ailments, those close to Williams said he was a genuinely good person.
"Mike was just a friend to everybody,” said Robert Frownfelter, Williams’ best friend. “You couldn't go somewhere where he didn't know somebody.
Mark Williams, one of Mike’s brothers, told the station that Mike would dress up as “Madea,” a character that actor/director Tyler Perry created and dressed in drag to portray.
“That just Mike though,” Mark Williams said. “See, he was a joker like that. He used to joke around and he was a good guy, real good guy.
“Love my brother, that's all, he'll be missed.”
But hopefully also remembered for his accomplishments, now that his name is featured prominently inside University Stadium.