Tar Heels are going bowling…again!

Note from Elizabeth: This post was written by someone whose name will be familiar to readers of this blog: our knowledgeable commenter Jack Hilliard. Hilliard is a North Carolina native, UNC-CH alumni (1963) and retired television producer/director (primarily for WFMY-TV in Greensboro). Hilliard got to know Hugh Morton through legendary UNC footballer Charlie Justice, and they worked closely together on the 2004 campaign for the Justice statue that stands in front of UNC’s Kenan Football Center. Hilliard now works as a volunteer for UNC Libraries, helping us identify Morton football images from the Justice era.

Butch Davis and his 2008 Tar Heels are headed to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte on December 27.  It will mark Carolina’s first bowl appearance since 2004, and will be their overall 26th. Hugh Morton covered several of those games over the years.

UNC’s first bowl game was the 13th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic (link to archival film of game) in foggy New Orleans on January 1, 1947.  That game was billed as the “Battle of the Charlies.”  Leading Coach Carl Snavely’s Tar Heels was freshman sensation Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, and leading Coach Wally Butts’ Georgia Bulldogs was senior All America Charley Trippi. The Bulldogs were unbeaten, untied and ranked number three in the country.  Carolina was 8-1-1 and ranked number nine. The game lived up to its advance billing.  Carolina led 7-0 at the half, but Georgia came from behind twice in the second half to take the game 20-10.

UNC 1947 Sugar Bowl starters

The game was not without controversy. Two second half calls (or really one no-call and one call) went against the Tar Heels. An interception-lateral play was allowed to stand and put Georgia into scoring position and a Carolina interference call nullified a Tar Heel touchdown. (The interception-lateral play would be reviewed today, but since there was no replay in 1947, the call stood). When the 16mm film was developed and shown the next week, both plays were shown to be questionable — too late to help the Heels.

When the game ended, 75,000 fans stood and cheered both teams as the two Charlies shook hands at mid-field. That friendship would continue as both Justice and Trippi would meet as opponents seven times during their NFL careers between 1950 and 1954 — Justice with the Washington Redskins and Trippi with the old Chicago Cardinals. (Ironically, Justice’s first and last games as a professional, on 10/22/50 and 12/12/54, would come against Trippi and the Cardinals).

Reunion of 1947 UNC Sugar Bowl Team, at Greensboro Train Station, 12/31/1996
At 11:30 AM on Tuesday, December 31, 1996, a 20-car Norfolk Southern train pulled out of the station in Greensboro (the same way it had done on December 21, 1946) headed for New Orleans and this time for the 63rd Annual Sugar Bowl.  90 UNC players, managers, wives and special guests of the 1947 Sugar Bowl team would meet up with about 40 members of the ’47 Georgia  Sugar Bowl team. . . including the two Charlies.  Justice, Trippi, and Carolina’s 1946 Co-Captain Ralph Strayhorn took part in a pre-game 50-yard-line ceremony at the Louisiana Superdome on January 2, 1997.

Reunion of 1947 Sugar Bowl Teams, January 2, 1997
The outcome of the 1947 Sugar Bowl was settled a long time ago, but for one final time, Justice and Trippi would replay that game played 50 years before and add their own “what ifs.”  The reunion trip was truly “A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey,” and of course, Hugh Morton was there with his camera.

– Jack Hilliard