Touchdown, State! Remembering Shorty Mac
By giftshop | September 8, 2015 |
Before Dak Prescott, MSU had 1944 Heisman front-runner bragging rights in Thomas “Shorty” McWilliams, a four-time All-SEC selection known as one of the greatest backs in Mississippi State football history.
My late friend Willie Morris and my late father Ace Cleveland had much in common, including the fact they both loved football and Shorty McWilliams, not at all in that order.
Morris knew McWilliams from when Shorty Mac would visit a sister who lived across the street from Willie on Grand Avenue in Yazoo City. Shorty Mac, by then a legend, would even take part in the touch football games in little Willie’s front yard.
“All of us, Yazoo boys, girls and dogs, were enthralled with the ineffable Shorty Mac, and we still owe him much,” Willie later wrote of a hero he called “noble and distinguished.”
I knew the great Shorty Mac because my dad would take me to Meridian sometimes to eat a meal at Shorty Mac’s Weidmann’s Restaurant where I would gorge on peanut butter and listen to the two of them swap stories.
Believe this: Shorty Mac could tell a story.
He loved to laugh and often had to pause in the telling of his stories to catch his breath from a belly laugh. Shorty Mac had first attended West Point where he was teammates with the great Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, both Heisman Trophy winners. Many predicted it was Shorty Mac’s turn to win the Heisman after Blanchard and Davis departed, but Shorty Mac left Army, as well, returning to play at State, where he became the only four-time All-SEC player in the league’s 82-year history.
There likely will never be another. These days, anybody that proficient would surely leave before his senior season to make millions in the NFL.
Shorty Mac, as he came to be known, was the remarkable running back who ran around and through opponents at Mississippi State in the 1940s, which has always been especially interesting to me. You see, Willie attended the University of Texas but he was a diehard Ole Miss fan, a Rebel. My dad spent nearly all his life at Southern Miss. He was a devout Golden Eagle. And yet, both of them adored a Bulldog.
“Best football player I ever saw,” is the way my sportswriting daddy described Thomas E. “Shorty” McWilliams. When Shorty Mac died in 1997, roughly two years after my dad, I went to Meridian to pay respects at a funeral attended by hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands. Meridian may never have seen another funeral like it. People lined up outside St. Patrick’s Catholic Church for more than two hours. I talked to many of them and heard stories about Shorty Mac I had never heard before.
From former Meridian Star sports editor Dick Smith: “Meridian was playing at Tupelo for the 1943 Big Eight Conference championship. First seven times Shorty McWilliams touched the ball, he scored. Short runs, long runs, kick returns. Every time, he scored. The eighth time he touched it, he ran all the way down the field 70-something yards before he grabbed at the back of his leg. He went down on the 2-yard line with a pulled hamstring. Never went back in the game. By then, Meridian didn’t need him.”
Eight touches, seven touchdowns. Nobody’s perfect.
“Everybody knows or should know about his football, but he could do anything,” Smith said. “The first week of that year he spent at Army, they put Shorty in the boxing ring with the Army heavyweight champion. Here Shorty was just a plebe, and he beat the crap out of that poor guy. Army had itself a new champion.”
In 2014, McWilliams became the sixth Bulldog legend to join the Ring of Honor, joining Johnie Cooks, Jack Cristil, Kent Hull, D.D. Lewis and Jackie Parker.
Shorty Mac wasn’t scared of football brutes or the Army heavyweight boxing champion, but he was scared of critters.
Cookie Epperson, one of Shorty Mac’s best friends at dear ol’ State told the story of a time after a Mississippi State football practice when Shorty Mac was enjoying a hot shower. Unbeknownst to Shorty Mac, a couple of teammates placed an opossum in the shower and then hid to watch the fun.
“Shorty Mac flew out of that shower and didn’t bother to grab his clothes or a towel,” Epperson said, laughing. “He ran right past all the secretaries and on outside. He never ran faster.”
Epperson also recalled a game with Auburn during Shorty Mac’s freshman season. McWilliams ran back a punt for a touchdown. An Auburn player returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Auburn kicked off, Shorty Mac caught it, and you can guess the rest. Touchdown, State.
Epperson was keeping statistics for a radio announcer in the press box and forgot the microphone. Said Epperson, laughing again, “I hollered, ‘Would you look at that! There that SOB goes again.’ Everybody in Mississippi heard it.”
Funeral goers in Meridian also spoke lovingly of Shorty Mac’s loyalty and generosity. “He had a heart as big as he was. He’d do anything for anybody at any time,” Epperson said.
“Nobody ever had a better friend,” said Smith.
Few, if any, ever told better stories than Shorty Mac. We have a few on our touchscreen kiosks at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. On a bad day when I need a smile (and a laugh), I sometimes go punch in my favorite Shorty Mac story and listen to him tell about his first game at LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
Shorty Mac was practicing his punts out of the south end zone in pre-game warmups. (Please remember, he didn’t like critters.) We’ll let Shorty Mac take it from there.
“Unbeknownst to me, they rolled up Mike the Tiger in that cage right right behind me,” Shorty Mac said. “I didn’t know he was there, and then that 500-pound tiger roared. Oh he roared at the top of his lungs. It scared me so bad…I ruined myself. I had to play the whole game in those pants.”
You couldn’t make it up, and the noble and distinguished Shorty Mac didn’t have to.
– Rick Cleveland
Delta Magazine September/October 2015
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