Mickey Plyler: It Was Never Really About The Cheeseburgers

by - Radio Host -

The following is the latest post on Mickey Plyler's blog. Plyler updates his blog at least once every weekday and it can be found on TigerNet at http://www.tigernet.com/blogs/plyler/ or on the right side of the front page of TigerNet.

"It Was Never Really About The Cheeseburgers"

December 30, 2009 is a day that was officially recognized by the City of Clemson and Clemson University as “Mac McKeown Day.” It was also the day I won’t forget because of the text messages I received late that evening. Mac was gone.

I had been to see Mac three or four times over the last six or so weeks but each time I never thought it was going to be the last time I would have that honor. Sure Mac looked worse at some times compared to others and sure Mac was 82 years old but it was hard to imagine Mac not being here.

Over the last five years or so I had been preparing for this day. In fact, I always my son Ryan to cherish every minute we have with Mac because he was getting on up in age. Ryan loved the food but he loved Mac too. In fact, Ryan once wrote a paper about two people he admired the most, my mom and Mac McKeown. Ryan said he admired Mac because at an age when most people had retired, Mac still loved coming to work and making people happy.

I was in Jackson, Wyoming on vacation last week with two friends who were also good friends with Mac and I told them the news the next morning. “Well, I guess we just lost the last of the Clemson legends?” my friend said. The next ten or fifteen minutes was spent on debating on who those legends were and which, if any, were still with us.

Bill Wilhelm, Danny Ford, Fred Cone and Ben Skardon may come to your mind. Dr. Edwards, Bob Bradley, Coach Howard, Walter Cox and Banks McFadden were legends. There is also no debate about Mac McKeown.

We all hold different people in different standings but the title of legend is a lofty one. I guess it is kind of like a first ballot Hall of Famer compared to someone who gets in the Hall eventually. Both are Hall of Famers but there is a difference in Mickey Mantle and Andre Dawson.

We all have our thoughts on what makes a legend but Mac is a first ballot legend. We all have our stories.

I once asked Mac if he was going to buy a brick during IPTAY’s brick campaign. “I would buy a whole mess of them if they let me pick who I could thrown them at,” Mac replied. Later in life there was no wondering what Mac was thinking. He spoke softly but he did not mind telling you what he thought. In the last years at the restaurant you had a much better chance of getting an opinion than a milkshake.

Mac has been my friend since I first walked through the front door at the restaurant back in the fall of 1986. I miss him already and was sad to hear the news of his passing but the overwhelming emotion I have had for the past week is one of gratitude. I am thankful that I had a chance to call him my friend for the past 23 years.

Saturday the Clemson community will get a chance to say goodbye one more time. There is a Memorial service at Jervey Gymnasium at 1:00 PM. I look forward to sharing more memories of Mac with so many of his closest friends again Saturday. I can’t wait to hear the service and the eulogies that will be provided by Lawson Holland and Danny Ford. I am sure many fans coming to the 4:00 PM basketball game will have a chance to come early to the service and honor a true Tiger and a true gentleman.

I was also pleased to get the e-mail yesterday announcing the formation of the Mac McKeown Scholarship Endowment Fund. The press release had two terrific quotes from two former Tiger All-Americans.

Former Clemson All-American offensive lineman Joe Bostic said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more caring, more compassionate, more generous human being anywhere, any time. He had the heart of gold. There’s no telling how many people that came through his doors at the drive-in – everyone from university administrators to students to city officials to the garbage man – his customers ran the whole gamut, and he listened to and cared about all of them. He was an equal opportunity listener.”

Former All-American quarterback Steve Fuller added, “The restaurant was Mac’s home and he made it our home, too. It seems like we were there almost every night for four years ... Mac held court as counselor, confidant and mentor, always willing to listen to our ever-changing issues and offer unwavering support. During his time, Mac likely influenced more Clemson students than any professor or coach with his clear and straightforward advice. The cheeseburgers were great, but it was never really about the cheeseburgers.”

Fuller said it perfectly. It never was really about the cheeseburgers. You won’t find a better cheeseburger anywhere but the cheeseburgers were not what keep us coming back. It was the friendship. It was the conversations. It was the family.

I think it was Coach Ford that said the unique thing about Mac. He said 360 days a year Mac never went more than five miles from the restaurant but he knew more Clemson people than anyone. He did not have to go anywhere. Clemson Nation came to him.

Mac’s Drive In is a fantastic restaurant, but it was facebook before facebook. One of the best things about Mac was that you could keep up with so many people without seeing them. At any point you could be sitting on a stool and ask, “Hey Mac, I heard Coach Ford had surgery the other day. How is he doing?” Inevitably Mac had always just seen the person you asked about. If he had not seen them then he had talked to someone who recently did. The reason was because if you lived here Mac’s is at least a once a week stop. If you were a Tiger from out of town then Mac’s was one of the first places you went to when you got back in town.

They say that former athletes used to stop by and see former trainer Herm McGee whenever they come back in town. I think a lot of them still do the same when they seek out former team doctor Byron Harder. That was the thing about Mac’s Drive In. You never knew who will be in there but if they came back to town then a stop at Mac’s was a must. It might be Stan Rome. It might be Bill McClellan. It might be someone from your fraternity or someone you have not seen since you took your biology final.

Mac was also Wikipedia before the site became popular. Over the past 23 years I have been to Mac’s once, twice or sometimes three times a week. If I averaged only once a week it would be over 1,000 visits but I know there have been more. I wonder how many times I have spent an hour or two after things slowed down after dinner asking Mac about Clemson history?

Macipedia was the place to get the information. “Hey Mac, who was a better running back Fred Cone or Buddy Gore?” I would ask. Or “Mac, who was the better quarterback in the mid-seventies Mike O’Cain or Willie Jordan?” Or “Mac, was Bob Pauling a better football player or baseball player?” “Mac, what kind of a guy was Charley Pell?”

Between the pictures of the many of the Clemson greats is the menu that tells us how much a grilled cheeseburger costs but nowhere on the menu did it tell you how much the most valuable part of the experience costs. There was no price for the friendship.

You might not always get a milkshake if you wanted one but you can always get “caught up.” That might be the best way to describe what we all do at Mac’s. If you need to know what Jack Leggett thought about the freshmen in the fall or you needed to find out if the starting linebacker’s knee was recovered enough to play Saturday then you could get “caught up” at Mac’s.

In 1997, McKeown was honored with the Order of the Palmetto, South’s Carolina’s highest civilian honor. That was a fitting day that a common man with an uncommon heart was recognized by our state. The state gave its biggest honor to just a good ole boy from Chester.

Now we all can give to a terrific cause. To donate to the Mac McKeown Scholarship Endowment Fund, contact Lawson Holland at 864-656-3937 or Bob Mahony at 864-656-2974 or send checks to Clemson University Annual Fund, Attn. Mac McKeown Scholarship Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 1889, Clemson, S.C. 29633.

I went to Mac’s last night for the first time since he passed. Mac had not been there in the past few weeks anyway so it did not feel totally empty. The food was just as good as ever. The customers were just as happy. There were some flower arraignments in his honor. But there was something missing. A friend was not there and won’t be ever again.

So Saturday we will have a Memorial service. It will be one last time to say thanks for the cheeseburgers but more importantly, THANKS FOR THE FRIENDSHIP! I hope to see ya there and hear your favorite Mac story.

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