Homecoming weekend harkens back to October 1947

On Monday my e-mailbox contained a message with the subject line “Possible Post” from regular contributor Jack Hilliard.  Given the calendar—this weekend is UNC’s homecoming—Jack’s article is timely.  Charlie Justice and UNC football in the 1940s are his topics this time around and Justice was the focus of Jack’s post last week, so he suggested that using this story later in the year might be best.  Well maybe, but on the other hand . . . ,  “Go go go go Care-lina!”

1947 UNC football team members

1947 UNC football team members. Back Row L to R: #23 Jim Camp, #86 George Sparger, #40 Walt Pupa, #22 Charlie Justice. Front Row L to R: #29 Bob Cox, #51 Len Szafaryn, #60 Sid Varney, #58 Haywood Fowle, #65 Al Bernot, #42 Bob Mitten, #50 Art Weiner.

In August of 1947, a popular preseason football magazine predicted the UNC Tar Heels would be among the nation’s elite come football season.  Smith Barrier writing in the Illustrated Football Annual said, “with Charlie Choo Choo Justice, accompanied by a brawny crew of conductors, engineers, and brakemen, North Carolina is the high pride of the Southern Conference.”

Lath Morris

Lath Morris, known as "Tarzan," unofficial cheerleader for UNC-Chapel Hill football team. Note the cigar in Morris's left hand.

Tar Heel fans and alumni were in complete agreement when the Tar Heels started off the season with a second half victory over Georgia in Chapel Hill on September 27th.  Following a 0 to 0 first half, the Tar Heels were led back on the field for the second half by a rotund man named Lath Morris…known as “Tarzan” to Tar Heel followers.  With megaphone in hand he shouted, “Go, go, go, go . . . Care-lina!”  The students shouted back, “Go, go, go . . . Tarzan.”  UNC’s Art Weiner, with five catches, led the Tar Heels over the Bulldogs 14 to 7.

1947 Illustrated Football Annual

1947 Illustrated Football Annual cover

On Friday, October 3rd, the Heels took their first plane trip as a team, heading to Austin to meet All America Bobby Layne and the undefeated University of Texas.  Saturday, October 4th was a hot 86- degree-day in Texas and the Longhorns were even hotter.  They defeated Carolina 34 to 0.  When the Associated Press rankings came out on October 6th, Texas was number three . . . the Tar Heels were 19th.

The Tar Heel faithful said OK we’ll re-group and get back on track next week when Coach Peahead Walker’s Wake Forest Demon Deacons come to Kenan.  So on October 11th, 35,000 fans crowded into comfortable 63-degree- Kenan Stadium to see the Deacs and the Heels renew a rivalry that started back in 1888.  Carolina won the toss that afternoon, but that’s about all.  Wake Forest dominated play in the first half and led 19 to 0 at the break.

The second half wasn’t much better for Coach Carl Snavely’s troops; however, they did hold Wake scoreless and in the 4th quarter Charlie Justice completed a touchdown pass to Danny Logue.  In the end, Wake’s defense had held the highly regarded UNC offense to 29 yards on the ground and 75 through the air.  Wake Forest had entered Kenan Stadium that afternoon undefeated and left the same way.  The final score:  Wake Forest 19, Carolina 7.

“We were outclassed,” said Coach Snavely after the game.

Justice, emotionally upset, blamed himself for the loss and added, “we’ve got nothing left but our press clippings.”

Hugh Morton’s image of Coach Snavely congratulating Coach Walker as his players carried him from the field, says it all.

Following October 11, 1947 UNC–Wake Forest football game in Kenan Stadium, UNC Head Football Coach Carl Snavely (in hat, right foreground) prepares to congratulate Wake Forest Head Coach Douglas "Peahead" Walker being carried by his players after Wake Forrest's victory over Carolina 19 to 7. This was the first time a Charlie Justice era (1946-1949) UNC team had lost in Kenan Stadium. Wake Forest players pictured left to right are: #15 Ed Haddox, Right Halfback; #22 Nick Ognovich, Quarterback; #2? (?); #44 Harry Dowda, Right Halfback; #55 Bernie Hannular, Right Tackle; #42 Bud Gregus, Left Halfback.

A promising season in early August had turned into a disaster by Mid-October.  Seven games remained on the 1947 schedule, so the season could be salvaged.  A trip to Williamsburg and a game with William & Mary was Carolina’s next challenge.  The Tar Heels won that challenge and never looked back. They reeled off seven straight wins, finished the season with an 8-2 season, and when the final AP poll was published on December 8th, Carolina was ranked 9th and received 2 first place votes.  Coach Snavely would later say the ’47 team was one of his best.

The Heels would not lose another regular season game until October 22, 1949.  The loss to Wake Forest on October 11, 1947 holds a place in the UNC football history book.  It was the first Justice Era (1946-1949) team loss in Kenan Stadium, and it’s the only Justice Era loss to any of the teams that would, six years later become the Atlantic Coast Conference.

7 thoughts on “Homecoming weekend harkens back to October 1947

  1. Lew, I saw this item on ebay a few days ago. My first reaction was “where is the Justice connection?” The images don’t indicate how this uniform is related to Charlie Justice. The only Justice connection is from the words of the seller.
    The description says it’s from the “1930s or early 1940s.” Justice played for Millard Junior High in Asheville in 1939. From 1940 through 1942 he played for Lee Edwards High in Asheville. In 1943 and 1944 he played for Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Maryland. In 1945, he played for the Pacific Fleet All-Stars at Pearl Harbor. From 1946 through 1949 he was at UNC and from 1950 through 1954 he was with the Washington Redskins. None of these team uniforms look like the uniform in the picture, nor does the striped helmet.

    I sent the ebay seller a question about the listing and he indicated that he was dealing with a gentleman who was handling Charlie’s items and believed it was Charlie’s high school uniform. I don’t think so… and where is the jersey number? Also, I believe Charlie’s daughter, Barbara, has his memorabilia. She is a dear friend and would never offer his stuff on ebay.

    So, here are three possibilities for the Justice connection to the uniform.

    (1) This could possibly be a uniform from Charlie’s childhood and is being sold buy one of his brothers. The seller is from St. Augustine, Florida and I believe one of Charlie’s borthers lives in Florida. If this be true, the item would have to be at least 74 years old. Looks really good for that age.

    (2) When Charlie Justice signed a professional football contract with the Washington Redskins in October of 1950, he became eligible to offer his endorsement for the many products that marketers had been bugging him about since his days at Carolina. He was no longer under the strict rules of UNC and the NCAA. He endorsed a kids football uniform which was sold by several dealers…Wilson, Rawlings, Winnbilt, and J.C. Higgins. The ebay description says there is a J.C. Higgins logo on the uniform, which means that it was sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company. A check of the 1954 Christmas Sears catalog shows a Justice uniform, (page 269). The ’54 Sears jersey and helmet are both red and there are knee pads on the pants. There is a Justice facsimile autograph on the helmet and shoulder pads. Can’t see anything like that in the ebay pictures. Looks like the name would have been highlighted if it were there. I have one of the Justice Winnbilt uniforms from my childhood. It has the same red shirt and helmet with the “autograph.” The Winnbilt uniform was sold by Southern Athletic of Knoxville, TN. A check of the 1951-52 Montgomery Ward catalog (page 811) shows a Justice kids uniform just like the one sold by Sears.

    (3) The ebay kids uniform is just a general kids uniform that happened to be autographed by Charlie Justice somewhere along the way. Charlie often stayed on the field after games in Chapel Hill and Washington, signing autographs for kids. He could have easily signed a shirt or helmet. One of my favorite Justice quotes: “I never had a problem with kids asking for an autograph,” said Justice, “the problem will come when they stop asking.” (Charlie never had that problem).

    Some final thoughts:

    I think possibility #3 is the most likely.

    I would love to get a good look at the uniform to check for simulated signatures, especially on the J.C. Higgins Logo. And why didn’t the seller show that logo?

    If this were a true Justice high school game-worn uniform, why is the price only $500? A few years ago a former Justice Era player sold an authentic Justice UNC jersey for almost $5000.

    The seller also said he was offering several other Justice items, but I couldn’t find them on his ebay site.

    I always enjoy your questions, Lew. Sorry for the long answer.

    -Jack

  2. Thanks, Jack — your answers are never too long…. I hadn’t known about the Justice-endorsed kids’ uniforms. Interesting that they weren’t exclusive to one maker or store. Wouldnt happen today, would it?….
    Way too many unknowns about this auction uniform to put credence in the Justice connection…. Maybe the seller will offer some more background….

  3. I attended UNC’s Reunion weekend last Friday and Saturday (May 10 & 11) and learned that we have lost yet another link to the “Charlie Justice Era” of Carolina football. UNC Center Joe Neikirk has passed away since last year’s reunion.

    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newsobserver/obituary.aspx?pid=161950847#fbLoggedOut

    Hugh Morton photographed Neikirk in June of 2004 at Johpaul Harris’ studio in Asheboro when five Justice teammates visited for a statue progress report.

    The photograph can be found on page155 in Morton’s 2006 book “Hugh Morton North Carolina Photographer.”

    Neikirk and Morton headed up the Charlie Justice statue project.

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