The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
With just two games left in the 1956 season and sporting a 1-5-1 record, head coach Milt Bruhn knew his Wisconsin football team needed a spark. He turned to a little-used defensive back-turned-quarterback to try to ignite the offense.
The plan worked.
Sidney Williams, who had rarely seen the field, was installed as UW’s starting quarterback ahead of its game at Illinois. At that point in the season, the two teams had a combined 3-9-2 record, hardly the makings of a historic contest. However, when Williams took the first snap of the game from Art Bloedorn, he became the first African-American starting quarterback in the modern era of the Big Ten Conference.
The Badgers escaped Champaign with a 13-13 tie on the strength of a Williams 9-yard touchdown run with less than four minutes remaining. Sidney Williams, a gangly bundle of muscle and heart who had to beg his way on the squad a year ago, lifted Wisconsin’s football team from the depths of despair to an unexpected 13-13 tie with Illinois before 52,858 Saturday, wrote the Milwaukee Sentinel.
The following week, seventh-ranked Minnesota came to town armed with a 6-1-1 record and once again, Williams punctuated a late comeback. After a pass interference call on Minnesota in the end zone gave the Badgers the ball on the 1 yard line, Williams plunged in with 2:07 left in the game. UW missed the ensuing extra point, just missing out on a stunning upset.
Williams started every game at quarterback for the Badgers in 1957, leading them to a 6-3 record and a No. 19 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. He ran for four touchdowns and passed for four more. In addition, he returned three punts, one kickoff and recorded two interceptions and two fumble recoveries on defense.
The next season, Williams started under center for UW’s season-opening 20-0 win at Miami. After that game, Dale Hackbart took over as the Badgers’ starter with Williams still seeing action at quarterback.
Wisconsin went 7-1-1 and finished the season ranked No. 7 in the country as Williams completed 22 of 40 passes for 321 yards and two TDs and ran 46 times for 108 yards and two scores. One of those was a 20-yard run to open the scoring in the season-ending 27-12 win over Minnesota. Following that victory, Williams and the nine other UW seniors were carried off the field by students who rushed the field.
Sidney Williams, a gangly bundle of muscle and heart who had to beg his way on the squad a year ago, lifted Wisconsin’s football team from the depths of despair to an unexpected 13-13 tie with Illinois before 52,858 Saturday.
– Game note in the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper (1956)
After the end of his trailblazing college career, Williams left the UW campus in 1958 for two years of professional football — one year in the NFL and one season in the Canadian Football League. Hampered by injuries during his brief pro career, however, he returned to Madison and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering.
He earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1967 and was for many years a highly-respected patent lawyer for the UpJohn pharmaceutical company, being appointed Executive Director of Trademarks and Domestic Patents for the company in 1990.
He retired from UpJohn in 1995 but remained active in the affairs of his alma mater, serving on the board of directors of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, as well as on the UW College of Engineering’s Industrial Advisory Board. In 1994, he received the University of Wisconsin’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Williams was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.