MSU Legends: The "Shorty" McWilliams Story

One of the most decorated players in the history of Mississippi State football is Tom "Shorty" McWilliams. Shorty amassed 1,808 rushing yards and nineteen rushing touchdowns. He was an All-SEC selection all four years he played in Starkville and was named a second team All-American in 1944. If those accomplishments were not enough, Shorty got votes for the Heisman, not once, but twice!

Shorty played for MSU in 1944, 46-48. The one year gap was due to a year (1945) spent at the United States Military Academy where he was part of a 9-0 National Championship team.

Once McWilliams college days were done, he spent time in the AFL and then was selected in the open draft by legendary NFL coach George Halas and the Chicago Bears. Shorty ended up with the Pittsburgh Steelers before "Uncle Sam's" call cut a promising professional career short.

Sadly, January 9th, 1997 Shorty McWilliams passed on, but thankfully Shorty's loving wife Gloria was gracious enough to grant an interview to tell more of the Shorty McWilliams story.

SR: Mrs. McWilliams it is an honor to speak with you. Your husband is a very important part of Mississippi State's history. If my research is correct, Shorty received more votes in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy than any other player from Mississippi State.

GM: I don't know if that is true, but I know he got votes for the Heisman. I am pretty sure that is true though.

SR: That is an amazing accomplishment for any college player. Did Shorty ever talk much about being a Heisman candidate?

GM: No. Let me tell you something about him. He never talked about anything like that. He would never talk about anything that he won, but he certainly deserved everything he ever got. He was just that kind of person. He never bragged on anything he ever won. He was the most valuable player in the SEC for four years. I used to say, "Shorty, that is just wonderful." And he would say he was just lucky, (laughs) but he wasn't lucky he was good.

SR: Well, when did you two meet? Did you meet at MSU?

GM: We got married in 1948. I hate to even say this, but I went to Ole Miss. (laughs) Shorty used to tell me that every young girl was entitled to make one big mistake when she was growing up and that was mine (laughs). I only went up there one year and we got married when Shorty was a junior, so I lived at State with him. I am a big State fan now.

SR: So where did you all go after MSU?

GM: Well, Shorty went into professional football. He played one year with a team that doesn't exist anymore in the American League. It was the Los Angeles Dons. They merged with the NFL and then he was picked up with Pittsburgh. He played for the Steelers a year.

Shorty graduated ROTC at Mississippi State. He was the commandant up there. Back in those days when you graduated from the ROTC you had to join the National Guard in your hometown, so he did here in Meridian. After the second year of professional football, we went through the Korean conflict, so he was called out. He was in the service for about four years.

After he got out of the service, we came back to Meridian. My father had a restaurant that they opened in 1870. Shorty went to work for my Dad and then he bought the restaurant.

It's funny that you called today. I found a hat in an old closet, a cap that someone would wear in the service and it had one silver bar which meant he was first lieutenant. I thought that Shorty wore so many hats in his lifetime and he was good at every one of them. Everything he did, he did well. I thought he was just wonderful.

SR: You are obviously very proud of him.

GM: I am. Shorty was my hero. We had four daughters and nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. I feel like he lives on through them.

SR: Did Shorty grow up a Mississippi State fan?

GM: I am not sure, but I tell you something he told me. He said when he graduated from high school that he had letters from Notre Dame and Alabama and everybody that was great. His Daddy told him to visit every school he had been invited to. He told him to go to Notre Dame, go to Alabama, go to Georgia, but you are going to Mississippi State because that's where he graduated from. That was back in the days when boys did what their Daddies told them to do. It wasn't like it is now.

SR: And the rest as they say is history.

GM: And the rest is definitely history! Let me tell you everybody liked Shorty McWilliams and it wasn't because he was a great football player, which he was. He was just a nice person. He was the kind of guy that your grandchildren just adore. He was really just a nice person.

His playing weight in the NFL was like 180. Today that would be absolutely nothing. I am so glad he got to play when he did because things have changed so much in football. He was really good.

SR: Did he ever mention any special moments that stood out to him when he was playing at MSU?

GM: One time they were playing in a ball game and I can't remember who they were playing or what the score was, but the coach sent in a play. Shorty said that play will never work. He said I am out here, I am going to call the play, so he called a play and they scored the winning touchdown.

Coach McKeen told him after the game was over, "It's a good thing we won, because if we hadn't because you didn't do what I told you, you would have never played football at Mississippi State ever again." Shorty told me he was out there playing and he knew what was going on. He said what Coach sent in he just couldn't do it, so he ran his own play.

SR: What are some of your favorite memories of watching him play ball?

GM: Well, I was thrilled to death with everything he did. He was so fast, no one could catch him. He would just start running and everybody better just get out of the way. He was just a really good football player. He loved it.

He never drank. When we were living in Pittsburgh they had Mondays off and the other men would get together and drink beer. He said the next day when he would get into the huddle he just couldn't breathe. They would get to sweating and the smell just made it where he couldn't breathe. He would ask them to please not drink because he couldn't breathe.

SR: Were there any teams he really enjoyed playing against?

GM: Ole Miss. You know Ole Miss and Mississippi State are big rivals. If they could beat Ole Miss they were in hog heaven. I got the chance to meet the new coach (Sylvester Croom) and he is just so nice. He told me he remembered my husband. I told Coach Croom what Shorty always told me, "What you do in September doesn't mean a hill of beans, but what you do in November counts and that means you beat Ole Miss." He (Coach Croom) beat Ole Miss this year and I was so excited.

Shorty was never really prejudiced about Ole Miss. If Ole Miss won every time they played except against State that was fine with him, but it wasn't with me. I wasn't that good of a sport. I hope they get beat every time they play.

SR: Mrs. McWilliams you have been a joy to talk to, so what are you up these days?

GM: I had a condition a while back and had to have surgery and I am (disabled) now. I go to therapy and people ask me what Shorty would have said. I tell them that Shorty would have said, "I am sorry that happened, but you can do it. I know you can, give it that old college try one more time." That has really kept me going. It keeps me going to know that he is up there pulling for me.

Only one player in Mississippi State football history, Michael Davis, scored more touchdowns than Shorty McWilliams. Thomas "Shorty" McWilliams was inducted in to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1963 and is forever remembered by those who cheer for the Maroon and White.

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