Justice’s prayer

On an overcast November day in Yankee Stadium in 1949, UNC’s injured and idled All-American running back huddled to the ground and pulled his rain cape over his body.  Hugh Morton pulled out his camera and trained it on Justice—Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice—praying undercover for the Tar Heels, who were leading Notre Dame 6-0.  It may be Morton’s most widely published photograph from that notable contest, whose final outcome was a 42-6 defeat for Carolina.

As I mentioned in my post on Friday, I just could not dampen the festive atmosphere for Saturday’s game by posting this photograph.  Justice’s prayer was shattered in New York, but the Tar Heel victory this past weekend in Chapel Hill was “just deserts.”

Today I found a few more negatives from the 1949 game and I have scanned several of those found thus far. I hope to put up a selection in the next day or two.

12 thoughts on “Justice’s prayer

  1. As you say, Stephen, this Morton photograph is indeed probably the most widely published shot from the 1949 game in Yankee Stadium. And according to “The State” magazine it is one of Hugh’s favorites. Here’s just a few of the publications that have reproduced this image:

    Making A Difference in North Carolina” by Hugh Morton & Ed Rankin (1988) Page 258
    “They Made The Bell Tower Chime” by Bob Quincy (1973) Page 34
    “Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story” by Bob Quincy & Julian Scheer (1958) Page 64
    “The State” Magazine -Hugh Morton’s Favorite Ten- October 1, 1968 Page 12

  2. I’m writing this comment so that it will post as close to 3:25 AM as possible. It was at that time on October 17, 2003, that UNC lost a hero, the state of North Carolina lost a legend, and I lost a dear friend. It was six years ago that Charlie Justice died at his home in Cherryville. One of the first phone calls that Charlie’s daughter Barbara made was to family friend Hugh Morton. If you open Hugh’s book, “Making A Difference in North Carolina,” to page 255 you’ll see the chapter heading “Charles Justice: Legendary Athlete and Humanitarian.”

    In a 1986 interview with Tom Seig of the “Winston-Salem Journal,” Charlie said: “I’d like to be remembered more for what I’ve done for humanity and the state of North Carolina than for my athletic abilities.”

    Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford issued a statement on the afternoon of October 17, 2003. “The sports world and the state of North Carolina lost a legend today. Charlie Justice’s contributions to the University and intercollegiate athletics as a whole are immeasurable. However, as impressive as his accomplishments were on the field, they couldn’t surpass the quality of the individual. Greatness and humility are too seldom linked, but they certainly were with Charlie.”

    In an interview that same afternoon, Hugh Morton, who was on the first board of directors of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, said, “we took in five people that first year. On the first ballot, Charlie got more votes than all the others put together. We all knew how good he was.” Hugh’s wife Julia added, “Charlie always knew he didn’t get where he was by himself.”

    The editorial page headline in the “Asheville Citizen-Times” issue of October 18, 2003 read: “Farewell to a world-class athlete and world-class gentleman.”

    Most of the current generation never saw Charlie Justice play football. It is indeed their loss, because it’s doubtful we’ll ever see the likes of him again.

    I think the “Carolina Alumni Review” said it best: “He is the standard by which future Saturday heroes will be measured.”

  3. When Hugh Morton presented his slides shows across North Carolina, he would always introduce pictures of his dear friend Charlie Justice by calling him “the greatest Southerner since Robert E. Lee.” If you lived in North Carolina in the late 1940s, you might understand why Morton made the statement. To borrow a phrase from “The Masters”…Charlie Justice was “like no other.” Most of Justice’s UNC records have been broken by now, but no one has come close to “filling his shoes.” It has been more than 60 years since he played his final varsity game for Carolina, yet you mention his name anywhere and someone will remember.

    Carolina broadcaster Woody Durham told this story during a gathering of alumni and friends in Charlotte in April 1984.

    Woody was in Atlanta covering Dean Smith’s 1984 Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament. He was in his hotel room preparing for that night’s radio broadcast. “The TV set was on but the sound was turned down real low and I wasn’t paying any attention to it,” said Durham. “Then something caught my attention. The CBS program ‘The Price is Right’ host Bob Barker had introduced a contestant form North Carolina.” Then Barker said, “who was the great All America football player from North Carolina back in the 1940s?” Immediately someone in the audience shouted out Choo Choo. Barker added, “that’s right, Choo Choo Charlie Justice..”

    Fast forward nine years…same TV show, same host, same question from Barker when a North Carolina contestant was introduced. Same result, someone in the audience immediately knew Charlie Justice.

    On September 6, 1987, “Winston-Salem Journal” feature writer Tom Seig wrote a Charlie Justice profile for his series “Insight: Tar Heel Sketches.” As part of that profile, he included a sidebar resume that listed a quick summation of Charlie’s career. One of the items in that resume was what Seig called “Public Position.” For that item was a simple one-word entry: “Legend.” (Seig also used a Morton photograph to support his article).

    On this day in 1924, Justice was born in Asheville. Today, May 18, 2010, Charlie Justice would have been 86 years old.

  4. “The greatst southerner since Robert E. Lee” was, I think, a line used in the LIFE magaszine story about Charlie (The one with his photograph on the cover) Hugh loved to quote it.

  5. On this day, seven years ago, in the early morning hours, I received a telephone call from Barbara (Justice) Crews. She gave me the sad news that her father and my dear friend had passed away. We lost a true hero on October 17, 2003 when Charlie Justice died.

    During dinner one evening not long ago. my wife Marla asked, “What’s the latest today on the UNC-NCAA investigation?” I told her what I had heard on the news that day and then I added, “Reggie Bush is giving back his Heisman Trophy…”

    “I’m glad Charlie doesn’t have to hear all of this.,” she said.

    Marla’s comment brought to mind some thoughts about Charlie Justice, the era in which he played, and his life after football.

    In the fall of 1988, as part of the 100th anniversary of UNC football, a number of celebrations were held. Chapel Hill Mayor Jonathan Howes declared September 24th as “Charlie Justice Day” and Charlie was honored at the game with Louisville. Later that fall Justice wrote a letter to his teammates who participated in his special day. In the letter he said the following about his fellow players:

    “You weren’t only good athletes, you are good human beings and have never embarrassed the University in any way. I just want to say thank you for letting me be one of you. I hope that when you form that team in your next gathering place above, you will pick me on your team one more time.”

    I remember an incident back in the mid 1980s when Justice was attending a celebrity golf tournament in the Triad. At the pairings party, my boss Charlie Harville wanted to do an interview with him. So we found a quiet corner of the room but before the interview, he handed his glass of ginger ale to his wife Sarah, saying, “There might be some kids who see this interview.” Justice was always very aware of his public image…he called it his public responsibility.

    Recently when Charlie was inducted into the Southern Conference Hall of Fame, his daughter Barbara, in her acceptance speech, spoke of his duty as a public figure and how important that was to him.

    Justice’s friend Hugh Morton had this to say in July of 1976: “Not only was he a great athlete, but he has been an absolute gentleman in his behavior since, a characteristic not always found in sports heroes after a big fuss has been made of them.”

    Following Charlie’s death, “The Carolina Alumni Review” declared, “He is the standard by which future Saturday heroes will be measured.” I would certainly agree with that statement, but would like to add the following quote from Sports Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite:

    “College football today has no heroes, only superstars, and superstars are fallible. The heroes of the postwar ’40s were not…College football prospered in that atmosphere…it would be the game’s finest hour.”

    Charlie Justice played his final varsity game for the Tar Heels almost 61 years ago, yet his name is still magical across North Carolina. He was a hero on the football field at a time when our country was looking for heroes. Following his four magical years at Carolina and another four with the Redskins, he spent the remainder of his 49 years giving back to his community, his University, and his State.

  6. In an address at Amherst College on October 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:

    “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces
    but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,”

    It was eight years ago this morning that I learned my friend Charlie Justice had passed away at his home in Cherryville. Charlie’s daughter Barbara called me at 4:25 AM with the sad news. It was October 17, 2003…a date that will forever be remembered.

    During graduation-reunion weekend at UNC in May of 2000, Charlie Justice was awarded the University’s highest honor, the degree of Doctor of Laws. He may well be the first college athlete to be honored with such a degree and the reason for that distinction was aptly put in these words by his friend Hugh Morton: “No person will ever know the benefits that have come to our University as the result of the loyalty which Charlie Justice kindled in thousands of our alumni. The best thing about Charlie Justice, however, and the reason he deserves this honor, is that he has been a model citizen. He has contributed his fame to hundreds of drives and worthy causes and has generally and consistently served as a wholesome example to impressionable youth.”

    Unfortunately, Charlie was not able to be in Kenan Stadium that Sunday in May of 2000, due to his declining health, but his teammate Paul Rizzo accepted the award.

  7. There must be as many Charlie Justice stories as there are people who saw him play. During the 1948 season he played 11 varsity games (including the Sugar Bowl on 1/1/49) before 571,000 fans…a lot of fans… a lot of stories. Here’s just one…

    There was a robbery on the Carolina campus the week before the UNC vs. Tennessee game on October 29, 1949. Thieves broke into the 207 Wollen Gym office of Sports Information Director Jake Wade. Chapel Hill Police Chief W.T. Sloan’s men investigated the situation and found that the only thing taken was a file folder of 80 Charlie Justice pictures.

    A little-known story about a Tar Heel legend. Charlie Justice would have celebrated his 88th birthday today, May 18, 2012.

  8. One of my favorite Hugh Morton quotes goes like this:

    “Unless you lived through that time, you don’t know what Charlie Justice meant to Chapel Hill.”

    On this day, 9 years ago, we lost the greatest Tar Heel…that Greatest Tar Heel honor according to the “Daily Tar Heel” issue of November 29, 1999.

    At 3:25 on Friday morning, October 17, 2003, Charlie Justice died at his home in Cherryville…he was 79 years old.

    Ironically, on this day 58 years ago, on October 17, 1954, the Washington Redskins celebrated “Charlie Justice Day” in Washington, DC. The Redskins played the Philadelphia Eagles in old Griffith Stadium.before 22,051 fans…many from North Carolina.

  9. In a time without YouTube and web 2.0 action… in a time when facebook was an actual face on an actual book and there were neither tweets nor twitters outside the bird kingdom… Charlie Justice went viral. It was during his time at UNC…often called the “Justice Era,” but Justice always preferred to call it the “Golden Era.”

    Author Ed McMinn calls him “the greatest and most famous football player in Tar Heel History. He was a bonafide superstar…a hero…a legend in his own time.”

    On January 28, 1950, The State magazine declared him North Carolina’s “Man of the Year for 1949,” complete with a Hugh Morton photo cover. The magazine gave six reasons for honoring Justice.

    (1) He has been the finest kind of an inspiration and example to the youth of North Carolina.

    (2) He has provided many hours of pleasurable entertainment to hundreds of thousands of people.

    (3) He has given North Carolina national publicity of a most favorable nature.

    (4) He has proved himself to be a clean sportsman, modest in his behavior, eager and willing to share credit with other members of his team.

    (5) He has been unselfish in his willingness to be of service in many worthy causes.

    (6) He has never been too busy to be nice to kids.

    On this day, May 18, 2013, Charlie Justice would have turned 89 years old.

  10. When writing comments and posts for the Hugh Morton web site, “A View to Hugh,” I’ve often said there must be as many Charlie Justice stories as there are people who ever saw him play. That’s a lot of people and lot of stories. So on this the tenth anniversary of his death, I offer one more Charlie Justice story.

    On Saturday October 15, 1949, Wake Forest Head Football Coach Peahead Walker brought his Demon Deacons into Kenan Stadium for a second time during the years known as the Justice Era. That first game, in 1947, between the Tar Heels and Deacons was the only Kenan Stadium loss for a Justice Era team up to that time, and Walker’s team was primed and ready for a repeat.

    Shortly before the 2 PM kickoff, Head Coach Carl Snavely’s Tar Heels ran onto the field through the famous musical trail way set up by the Carolina band. As Senior Captain Charlie Justice cleared the final band member, the referee for the game, Dave Kaufman, made his way over to Justice and extended his hand. The two shook hands and chatted for a few seconds. Nothing unusual about that, but what happened next was unusual. Referee Kaufman then took out a game program and pen from his jacket pocket and asked for an autograph. Justice graciously signed the program.

    I think I can say without question, Charlie Justice never refused an autograph when asked. He would say in a 1984 interview, “I never had a problem when fans ask for an autograph. The problem,” said Justice, “is when they stop asking.” (Charlie Justice never had that problem).

    And, oh yes, Charlie scored three touchdowns to lead Carolina over Wake that day 28 to 14, before a sellout crowd in beautiful Kenan Stadium.

    Ten years ago today, in the early morning hours of Friday October 17, 2003, Charlie Justice passed away at his home in Cherryville. He was 79 years old.

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