On January 9, 1991, UNC junior Hubert Davis was high scorer with twenty-five points against Maryland, helping Dean Smith reached his 700th victory. As the year progressed, the Tar Heels winning season continued to unfurl. The team lost to Duke to close out the regular season, but UNC turned the tables and beat the Blue Devils to claim the ACC Tournament title.
In the NCCA Tournament, the Tar Heels destroyed Northeastern, leveled Villanova, pummeled Eastern Michigan, and eked past Temple to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis. Their opponent? Kansas, with former UNC assistant coach and future UNC head coach Roy Williams at the helm.
UNC’s trip to the “Crossroads of America” ended with a stop sign. Just like he did against Maryland, Hubert Davis led all scorers with twenty-five points. This time, however, the outcome was a 79–73 loss. The Jayhawks then faced Duke, who had defeated the University of Nevada Las Vegas 79–77. In the championship game, Duke won by the score of 72–65.
After the semifinals, Davis was the fifth leading scorer of the tournament with 96 points, averaging 19.2 per game. UNC finished its season with a 29–6 record.
Ten years ago, on March 18th, 2012 Bill Richards, a colleague who worked in the library’s Digital Production Center, passed away unexpectedly while watching the Tar Heel’s basketball team defeat Creighton University in the “Sweet Sixteen” round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. In 1982, Bill was the Chief Photographer for the Chapel Hill Newspaper. In 1988, he began working as a photographer and graphic designer in the UNC Office of Sports information. In 1998 he started working in Library Photographic Services, but continued shooting for Sports Information into the 2000s. I am dedicating this blog post, as I have each year since his departure, to Bill who, like Hugh Morton, was an avid UNC basketball fan.
Williams has not been a focal point of a blog post here on A View to Hugh, but his name appears in a dozen or so posts. If you would like to revisit any of those posts, simply enter his name in the search box and see if any of the results looks like interesting reading to you.
I’ll be working in Wilson Library next week, so I will look to see what I can assemble for a fitting blog post. In the meantime, please explore the online collection and A View to Hugh for glimpses into the stellar career of Roy Williams.
It was late summer, 1958. I was getting ready for my first year at UNC. In the mail one afternoon, my dad got a UNC General Alumni Association newsletter. Inside was a list of several UNC authors who had books coming out soon, including Bob Quincy and Julian Scheer and their biography of my all time hero Charlie Justice. The newsletter said the book, titled Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story, would be out on November 29, 1958.
I left for school on September 18th and soon after I arrived on campus, I visited the Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street. (It was the original “Intimate,” the one with the squeaky wooden floors). The man at the store said they expected to have the book in time for Christmas.
November 29th was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was at home in Asheboro, so I went downtown to see if Scott’s Book Store had the book. They didn’t, so as soon as I got back to school on Monday I went to the Intimate, and they had the book. I got it, went back to my room in Cobb Dorm and read it in one sitting. It was great and I could not believe the magnificent pictures taken by Hugh Morton. I knew who Morton was. I had seen his name under sports pictures in the newspapers, many of which I had clipped and pasted in a huge scrapbook. And my dad and I had also visited Grandfather Mountain in August of 1953 and had walked across the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
I wanted to send Mr. Morton a letter and tell him how much I liked the pictures, but I didn’t have his address. I thought I had heard he lived in Wilmington but, since I had no address, I decided to call Grandfather Mountain and leave a message with the switchboard operator. So, on Tuesday afternoon, December 2, 1958 . . . I called.
When the operator answered, I introduced myself and told her why I was calling. Much to my surprise she said, “Mr. Morton is here in the office, would you like to speak with him?”
“Yes” is all I could get out.
And then a few seconds later . . . “Hello Jack, this is Hugh Morton.”
We talked for almost ten minutes. Turns out we were both huge fans of Charlie Justice. And because of that connection, Hugh Morton and I became friends—a friendship that lasted for almost forty-eight years, from December 2, 1958 to June 1, 2006.
In early 2004, when Hugh Morton selected a panel of “Golden Age” UNC football athletes to help sculptor Johnpaul Harris in preparing the Charlie Justice statue, Joe Neikirk was first on the list. After all, Neikirk had originated the statue idea. On this day, May 29, 2020 Neikirk would have turned 92 and Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at the life and times of Joseph Randolph Neikirk, a friend of Carolina like no other.
Joe Neikirk arrived on the UNC campus in the fall of 1946 and went out for the football team. He played center and was a kickoff specialist for the freshman team at first, but late in the 1946 season, when varsity center Chan Highsmith was injured, Neikirk became the varsity back-up center . . . just in time for the 1947 Sugar Bowl game. During the ’47, ’48, and ’49 seasons, Neikirk became an extremely important part of what would become known as “The Golden Era” of Carolina football. During the 1948 season, Neikirk was included in one of the most famous Hugh Morton pictures taken during the era. The image was taken following Carolina’s historic win over Duke on November 20, 1948. All-America Charlie Justice’s 43-yard-touchdown run set the stage for the 20-to-0 win and following the game Neikirk, Bob Cox, and Bob Mitten carried Justice off the field.
Morton’s image is one of the most reproduced Charlie Justice pictures and was featured on the cover of The State magazine issue of December 4, 1948. Morton always included the picture in his slide shows and in his 1988 book, “Making a Difference in North Carolina” (page 256), and his 2003 book, Hugh Morton’s North Carolina (page 165). The image is also in the 1949 UNC yearbook The Yackety Yack (page 259).
Neikirk graduated from Carolina on June 5, 1950 receiving a BA degree in Education. On July 29, 1950 he married the love of his life Eleanor (Nonnie) McClure. Following his graduation, Neikirk became the head football coach at Mooresville High for three years. In 1955, he began his career at an entry-level position with the Norfolk and Western Railway and progressed through numerous positions.
During his time with the railway, he always kept his eye on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, and returned often for reunions and special events honoring his time and his teammates at UNC. One of those special reunions came during the weekend of October 30th, 1971 when the teams of ’46, ’47, and ’48 celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary, highlighted by the return of their head coach Carl Snavely to Chapel Hill after almost twenty years. Joe and Nonnie Neikirk traveled for the reunion from Chagrin Falls, Ohio where Joe was Vice President of the Erie Lackawanna Railway Company. Part of the celebration was a Hugh Morton slide show.
When Joe and Nonnie came back to Chapel Hill for graduation/reunion weekend in May of 1989, Joe had advanced to Vice Chairman of Norfolk Southern Corporation and he took part in the 1989 edition of “Saturday Morning in Chapel Hill,” before a full house in Memorial Hall. Neikirk’s teammate Bob Cox conducted that morning’s program, “Why Did We Have It So Good and What Made Us Different.” Nine Tar Heel legends shared stories of their time at Carolina in the program, and once again, a Hugh Morton slide show kicked off the proceedings.
In 1993, Neikirk retired from Norfolk Southern, and he and Nonnie moved back to Chapel Hill. Soon after their return, Joe began working on a major project celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Carolina’s first bowl trip, the 1947 Sugar Bowl. He arranged for a Norfolk Southern train with twenty-two cars to transport ninety UNC team members, managers, wives, and special guests to New Orleans to meet up with about forty members of the University of Georgia’s 1947 Sugar Bowl team.
That Sugar Bowl reunion trip was one to be remembered. Gus Purcell, a tailback on the ’47 team said, “the Sugar Bowl trip was a dream come true.” Said Hugh Morton, “It was really a fun trip, and I would not take anything for having gone on it.” And UNC All America end Art Weiner said, “Our trip was great and we are still marveling that Joe Neikirk could put it together.” Author and artist Harold Styers, in his book, Hark the Sound: A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey declared Neikirk the “Most Valuable Player” of 1997.
Two years later, UNC’s “Voice of the Tar Heels” Woody Durham paired with the UNC General Alumni Association to present a series of programs called “History of Sports at Carolina: Football.” On September 27, 1999 he featured “The Justice Years 1946-1949.” Neikirk, Paul Rizzo, a blocking back on the Golden Era teams, and Art Weiner, the All America end did a marvelous job of reliving that fabulous era. It was at this gathering that I met Joe Neikirk’s wife Nonnie, a delightful lady. We talked at length about films from the Golden Era. Over the next few months, I sent her and Joe several cassettes with game film from the era.
On December 7, 2000, I received a letter from Joe with holiday greetings, and then he said,” Jack, I’m laying the ground work on a project that I’ll be in touch with you about after the first of the Year.” That project turned out to be the Charlie Justice statue project. He teamed with Hugh Morton, who in turn brought sculptor Johnpaul Harris to the project. Morton also selected a team of Justice Era players to aid Harris. The team made two visits to Harris’ Asheboro studio. Of course Morton brought his camera on each of those visits. One of those pictures is in his 2006 book, Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer (page 155).
On Thursday, November 4, 2004, the Morton team gathered at the Kenan Football Center to put the 900-pound-statue in place.
The following day, under a beautiful Carolina blue sky, the statue was dedicated. Moderator UNC’s Athletic Director Dick Baddour introduced Tar Heel dignitaries and former players. Of course, one of those players was Neikirk. It was during his remarks that something happened that will never be forgotten.
Just as Neikirk said, “I can’t help but believe that Charlie and Sarah are looking down with pride,” the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower chimed out the quarter-hour. Neikirk raised his hands and looked up into the Carolina blue sky. In describing the incident UNC football historian Lee Pace said “No one present believed there was anything coincidental about it.”
In addition to his sense of humor and quick wit, Joe Neikirk was a great story teller. On March 30, 2006, the late Dr. Ron Hyatt teamed with the GAA to present a look back at Carolina’s Golden Era. Neikirk teamed with fullback Walt Pupa, and ends Bob Cox and Ed Bilpuch to tell some stories from the era. Neikirk’s story initiated a standing ovation from those gathered at the Hill Alumni Center. The story goes like this:
Four days after Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey for the Presidency, Carolina played William & Mary in historic Kenan Memorial Stadium, on November 6, 1948. Carolina was ranked third in the country and had won thirteen straight games, but William & Mary came to play. With the score tied at seven and time running out, Carolina had the ball at its own 21 yard line. Billy Hayes went back to pass. He spotted Max Cooke at the 28 and let it fly, but William & Mary’s Joe Mark cut in front of Cooke and made the interception. When Hayes finally got Mark on the ground, the ball was at the Carolina 8 . . . just as the gun sounded to end the game. William & Mary’s All-America Jack Cloud immediately ran up to referee Mr. Dandelake pleading for a time out. Neikirk was standing beside the referee, as he said, “Son, the d— game is over.” Neikirk added “the tie wrecked our season,” but Carolina went on to a 9-0-1 season. By the way, that 1948 Tar Heel team was just last week ranked as the second best UNC football team of all time by the website Tar Heel Illustrated.
Joe Neikirk served on numerous civic and philanthropic boards, including Virginia Institute of Marine Science and William and Mary’s Board of Visitors. He also served as a board member of the UNC Educational Foundation. In gratitude to the University for his opportunity, Neikirk endowed a football scholarship, and in recognition for his distinguished career, Norfolk Southern Foundation established a professorship in the School of Education in his honor.
Joseph Randolph Neikirk passed away on December 22, 2012—two and a half years before the love of his life Eleanor McClure Neikirk passed on June 3, 2015. During their sixty-two years of marriage they raised four sons.
Joe Neikirk will forever be remembered as a member of the greatest generation, who never forgot his UNC Tar Heel roots.
Had the novel coronavirus pandemic not besieged the world, the southern part of heaven—like many college campuses—would be celebrating commencement this weekend. At UNC, commencement weekend also marks the alumni reunions for several anniversary years.
Each year for the past decade or so, I’ve assembled into a digital slideshow about 50 to 100 images from the “UNC Photo Lab” collection for the fiftieth anniversary class. Whenever possible, I’ve added images from the Hugh Morton and, more recently, the Durham Herald Company collections. The slide show is part of Wilson Library’s offerings for visiting alumni and anyone who happens to find themselves on campus that day. Each slideshow has been paired with a selection of songs drawn from the Southern Folk Collection for the same reunion year. Both run on a continuous loop through the afternoon. Also on display are the yearbooks for the featured reunion years. People wander into the building, have some cookies and a cold drink, and take in the architecture, the exhibitions, and our special slideshow and musical walk through memory lane.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary for the Class of 1970. With the campus closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, I was not able to go through the collections and select images for digitization. Graduation ceremonies are not going to take place, and the General Alumni Association’s weekend celebrations have been postponed. Not to be deterred, Wilson Library created an online version of our Wilson Library open house event. In some ways it is better because there is direct access to digitized issues of The Daily Tar Heel and Black Ink, neither of which would get placed on display due to the fragility of newsprint. The above photograph of Charlie Scott is featured in the online event because it is one of the few previously scanned photographs from the 1969–1970 academic year that I can access from home. In the online collection, there are four images from the contest between the Tar Heels and the Demon Deacons played on January 17, 1970.
A search through the Morton collection finding suggests that Hugh Morton was not on campus much during that academic year, and that he did not photograph many athletic events. He photographed the UNC versus NC State football game in Raleigh on September 20. The only other basketball games with photographs in the collection were the North Carolina State on February 9 (although there is a note in the finding aid that says “all same game?”), and the ACC Tournament in March.
Many UNC basketball fans are likely aware that ESPN has launched a ten-part documentary series about Michael Jordan titled The Last Dance. Episodes one and two debuted last Sunday; those will be re-run this Sunday, followed by the debuts for episode three and four. If you are a fan of binge streaming television shows, there’s four hours of immersion viewing for you right there!
I suspect you might be looking for other activities to keep you engaged with the world outside your stay-at-home location. To help you with that, Jack Hilliard and I would like you to share with the readers of A View to Hugh your favorite Michael Jordan photograph made by Hugh Morton. Which one is your favorite . . . and most importantly, why?
Please look through the 124 images of MJ in the online Morton collection, then pick your favorite and share in the comments. If you wish (so we can see the image), copy and paste the Reference URL in your comment. Here’s a screenshot with a red ellipse to help you find it:
Jack and I have picked ours favorites: mine is above, his is below. What’s yours? Please let us know in the comments section! (Please see note below about comments with links.)
When recalling Michael Jordon’s UNC accomplishments, my favorite Hugh Morton image of Jordan was taken on February 10, 1983 during a game against the University of Virginia in Carmichael. I think it is my favorite shot simply because it is a classic Jordan pose. It was a game winner, plus there is a beautiful Morton story behind the image. That story goes like this:
In early February, 1983 Morton got a call from C.J. Underwood, the longtime anchor and reporter at WBTV, Channel 3, in Charlotte. Underwood wanted to do a feature for his “Carolina Camera” news series about Morton and his longtime association with UNC sports. They both agreed that the UVA game on Thursday, February 10th in Chapel Hill would be a good time to meet and shoot the feature. As the teams warmed up for the game, Jordan came over to Morton’s court-side location, as he often did. During the course of their short conversation, Morton told Jordan about Underwood and the WBTV photographer shooting the feature. As the two parted, Morton said, as he always did, “Have a good game, Michael.” Following that fantastic shot, Michael, as he started back up the court, brushed by Morton and asked, “Was that good enough?”
Jack wrote about this photograph on A View to Hugh back in 2013, celebrating Jordan’s fiftieth birthday, in a post titled The Dunk for the Ages.
I picked my favorite Michael Jordan photograph simply because he still has that youthful look with his quick smile, which Morton captured despite it being a posed portrait. After looking into the background of the photograph, I came to enjoy it even more because yet another “Morton Mystery” emerged: the date of April 5, 1986 that has been provide in the online collection for years is likely incorrect. A quick check of the Chicago Bulls’ 1986 schedule showed the Bulls in Chicago playing Atlanta, not on the road in Philadelphia. Looking at the 1985 schedule revealed that the Bulls played the 76ers in Philadelphia a year earlier. That date made this a rookie-year portrait and a “sneaker” closeup of Jordan donning an early pair of Nike’s Air Jordan shoes. I love when looking deeper at a photograph unlocks more than meets the eye!
Clicking on the photographs above will take you to the records in the online database, where there are other image made on the same date. The description for the photograph I selected reads, “Michael Jordan tying his Nike shoes; picture probably taken in Philadelphia, while Morton was on assignment for the 1986 edition of the “Carolina Court” yearbook, published by Art Chansky.” Mr. Chansky: if you’re reading this . . . can you shed any light on the subject?
A Note About Comments with Links
To repel comment spam, we have a Comments Policy. Essentially, the blog software earmarks comments containing links with a Pending status. I’ll be monitoring routinely the Pending Comments folder and approving them periodically. There’s no need to resubmit your comment if it doesn’t appear right after you submit it. If your comment is lengthy, you may wish to type it elsewhere (like a word processor) then cut and paste it into the comment box . . . just in case.
“Danny was one of the greatest Tar Heels to come through Chapel Hill having starred in both football and baseball, as well as playing basketball on the freshman team. . . . He was respected and loved by many and will be missed. On behalf of the Carolina Football Family, we send our deepest condolences to Danny’s family and friends.”
UNC Head Football Coach Mack Brown, January 19, 2020
The Tar Heel nation has lost a legend. In the early morning hours of January 19, 2020, Danny Talbott lost his nine-year battle with cancer. Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard has a look at the life and times of Joseph Daniel Talbott III . . . who everyone called Danny.
It was Wednesday November 26, 2014, the day before Thanksgiving. UNC football great Danny Talbott was in his third year of battling multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks plasma blood cells. He was being treated at the Outpatient Infusion Center of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill. He talked about his condition: “If I die, then I go to heaven. If I beat this, then I get to stick around and give my friends a hard time. It’s a win-win.”
Danny Talbott was noted for his sense of humor and is one of the most revered athletes in UNC history, having played football, baseball, and freshman basketball during his time in Chapel Hill from 1963 to 1967. Over the years, when books have been written about sports at UNC, Danny Talbott is included as an important part of that history. Author Ken Rappoport, in his 1976 book Tar Heel: North Carolina Football, describes Talbott as one of head coach Jim Hickey’s “most electrifying players.” Phil Ben, in his 1988 book Tar Heel Tradition: 100 Years of Sports at Carolina, calls Talbott “a brilliant all-round athlete.” And when Woody Durham compiled the book Tar Heels Cooking for Ronald’s Kids also in ’88, he included Danny’s recipe for peanut butter fudge.
In addition to the photograph above (not previously scanned before this blog post) during the second game of the season versus Michigan State, photographer Hugh Morton caught up with starting quarterback Talbott on opening day after the North Carolina State game . . .
and along the sideline during Carolina’s contest against Wake Forest the following Saturday on October 3.
Danny was the ACC football player of the year in 1965 with 1,477 yards of total offense, and was 11 of 16 for 127 passing yards to lead Carolina to a 14 to 3 upset win at Ohio State under their head coach Woody Hayes in the second game of the season.
On October 30, 1965, Georgia came into Chapel Hill for a game in Kenan. On that Saturday afternoon, Danny Talbott ran and passed for 318 total yards, eclipsing Charlie Justice’s single game offensive record (also set against Georgia back in 1948), by 14 yards. Talbott called it one of his greatest thrills.
When Carolina went into Duke Stadium on November 20, 1965, for the 52nd meeting between the two rivals, the Blue Devils dominated the game; but for a brief moment near the end of the first quarter, the Tar Heels took the lead thanks to Talbott. Author Bill Cromartie, in his 1992 book Battle of the Blues describes the moment: trailing 6 to 0 and “facing a fourth-and-one at the seven, Danny Talbott swung wide, broke a couple of tackles, leaped over defensive back Art Vann, and scored. Talbott also converted, giving his team a 7 to 6 lead.”
In September 1966, five years before he became “The Voice of the Tar Heels,” the late Woody Durham produced a Charlie Justice documentary at WFMY-TV in Greensboro titled “Choo Choo: Yesterday and Today.” I had the honor of being a production assistant for that program. In the program, Woody said:
Since the glorious days of the Justice era in the late 40s Carolina has searched in vain for Choo Choo’s replacement—the one player who might possibly possess his unique triple-threat ability. Every few years some outstanding Tar Heel player is compared with the legendary Justice, and this fall that comparison will be made of quarterback Danny Talbott. After outstanding seasons as both a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot, 185-pound Rocky Mount native stands on the threshold of what could well be a magnificent senior year…” [Danny was chosen] “as both the ‘Football Player and Athlete of the Year’ in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.
Talbott was Co-Captain in ‘66 as well as cover boy for the UNC 1966 football Media Guide and the 1966 NCAA Record Book. In the third game of that season, Talbott led the Tar Heels to a 21 to 7 upset win over eighth-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Daily Tar Heel banner headline from October 2, 1966 says it all:
In a later-life-interview Talbott would say, “that was sure fun . . . it’s a great thrill to think back on going to a place like Michigan and turning a crowd of 88,000 into total silence.”
Earlier in that year, Talbott had led the 1966 Tar Heels to the College World Series of baseball. He made first-team ACC three years in a row with a career batting average of .357. In 1967, Talbott was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but he decided to play professional baseball. He played one season of minor-league ball with the Baltimore Orioles’ farm team in Miami.
In ’68, he was back in the NFL, this time with the Washington Redskins as backup quarterback to Duke legend Sonny Jurgensen. After three seasons in DC, Talbott returned home to Rocky Mount and for the next thirty-three years he was a sales representative for Johnson & Johnson.
In the fall of 1999, UNC’s General Alumni Association presented a special series titled: “The History of Sports at Carolina: Football.” For six Monday nights, Woody Durham moderated a panel of Tar Heel greats talking about their time on the Carolina gridiron. On October 4, Danny Talbott joined Don Stallings and Junior Edge for a session titled “Moments to Remember.”
Health administrators at Nash UNC Health Care in Rocky Mount had planned for several years to build a multi-disciplinary cancer treatment center that could serve northeastern North Carolina. Early in 2017, they were brainstorming ideas to raise funds and target potential benefactors when the name Danny Talbott came up for discussion and one of the steering committee members said, “Why don’t we just name the center for Danny?” The idea took off from there for construction of a 16,100-square-foot cancer treatment facility.
On Thursday, February 1, 2018, UNC Cancer Care at Nash cut the ribbon that opened the doors to the Danny Talbott Cancer Center. “It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever received,” said Talbott. “I’ve never been so surprised in my life. It’s too hard to believe they would think enough of me and want to name a cancer center after me. It’s hard to put into words, it’s just amazing. I look forward to what the center will do in this part of North Carolina and maybe even Virginia. I can’t express enough what I think it’s going to do for this part of North Carolina.”
Twelve days short of the center’s second anniversary, Danny Talbott lost his nine-year cancer battle—a battle that he fought with courage, dignity, and a bit of humor. The UNC Tar Heel legend had given us seventy amazing years. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on January 20, 2020: “We mourn the loss of Rocky Mount native, UNC great and NC Sports Hall of Famer Danny Talbott. Great athlete and fine man who finally lost a courageous battle with cancer.”
“He is a coon hunter, a rich man, an ex-whiskey runner, a good old boy who hard-charged Stock cars 175 mph…he is the lead-footed-chicken-farmer from Rhonda…the true vision of the New South.” —Tom Wolfe in Esquire, March 1965
On December 20, 2019, America lost its “last hero.” Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson lost his battle with Alzheimer’s at age 88. Over the years, Johnson crossed paths with photographer Hugh Morton a few times. Morton included a picture of Johnson in his 1988 book “Making a Difference in North Carolina” and also his 2003 book “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina.” On this day, one month after his passing, Morton Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at the life and times of a NASCAR legend.
I remember hearing my dear friend the late Charlie Harville talk about having breakfast with Junior and Flossie Johnson on race days in Ingle Hollow. It was a tradition for media personnel to stop by and join racers, crews, and car owners for bacon, eggs and grits. Afterward, all would go down the road to the track where Junior Johnson entered his first race—a 100-miler—at age 16, in 1947 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Johnson finished second that day; six years later, he set up a race team in 1953. Johnson began his full-time NASCAR career in 1955, winning five races and finishing sixth in the Grand National points race. In 1956, Junior was caught firing up his dad’s moonshine still and became entangled in a barbed wire fence while trying to escape. The conviction that followed put Johnson on a forced eleven-month, three-day sentence that took him away from NASCAR. (Johnson always made it a point of pride that the federal agents never caught him on the highway).
Once back at the track, Johnson continued winning. By 1959 he was considered a master at “short-track-racing.” In 1960, he got his first “superspeedway” win at the Daytona 500. Johnson made an important discovery while preparing for that race. He and his crew chief Ray Fox were trying to figure out how to increase their speed and during a test run at the track, Johnson noticed that when he moved in close behind a faster car his speed would also increase due to the faster car’s “slipstream.” Following that Daytona win, other drivers picked up Junior’s technique and the term “drafting” became a NASCAR tradition that continues today.
When Johnson retired as a driver following the 1966 season, he had fifty wins—eleven at major speedways. He then became one of the most successful crew chiefs and car owners in NASCAR history. He teamed with drivers including Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, and Darrell Waltrip, among others. In all, his drivers won 139 races, which included six Winston Cup Championships: three with Waltrip and three with Yarborough. Darrell Waltrip said on December 21, 2019 on his Twitter account: “He became my boss and made me a champion. I loved that man. God Bless Jr. and his family. You were the greatest.”
On September 15, 1982 Junior Johnson was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Gardner-Webb College in Shelby, North Carolina. Photographer Hugh Morton was there that night when Master of Ceremonies Jim Thacker introduced Pat Preston, who in turned made the formal induction speech for Johnson. Morton’s picture of the hall’s Class of 1982 is in his 1988 book, Making a Difference in North Carolina, on page 160.
A little over three years later, on the day after Christmas in 1985, Junior Johnson received a full and unconditional pardon from President Ronald Reagan for his 1956 conviction in federal court for moonshining.
In 2004, he joined Michael Jordan, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Richard Petty and Charlie Justice by having a stretch of highway named in his honor. An 8.5-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 421 from the Yadkin and Wilkes County line to the Windy Gap exit is named the “Junior Johnson Highway.” And he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
It was May of 2007 when Johnson teamed with Piedmont Distillers of Madison, North Carolina to introduce a moonshine product called Midnight Moon. Johnson became part owner of Piedmont Distillers, the only legal distiller in North Carolina at the time. Midnight Moon followed the Johnson family’s generations-old tradition of making moonshine—every batch produced in an authentic copper still and handcrafted in small batches. The ‘shine is a legal version of his famous family recipe, and is available in eight varieties that range from 70 to 100 proof. Junior described his moonshine as “Smoother than vodka. Better than whiskey. Best ‘shine ever.”
It seems as though everybody who knew Junior Johnson has a favorite “Junior” story. Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer columnist, shared this story on twitter last month:
“NASCAR writer Tom Higgins once told me that Junior…was asked in the ‘70s if he ever went to the GM engineers for help. ‘Naw, but sometimes they come to me,’ he said.”
Greensboro News & Record columnist Ed Hardin added this story in the paper on December 21:
We were in Rockingham back in the late ‘80s, and a group of writers had followed Junior out to his pickup. Along the way, he stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures. . . . When we finally got there, he reached into the bed and dragged a cooler down to the tailgate. Inside was a big pickle jar filled with cherries floating in a clear liquid. . . . And to this day, I remember Junior looking at me and giving me words of advice I still pass on to folks not accustomed to North Carolina cherries from Ingle Hollow.
‘Son,’ he said, ‘don’t eat two.”
Finally, Hugh Morton, in his 2003 book, Hugh Morton’s North Carolina, (on page 185) says this about the “Last American Hero”:
. . . if you go to a race or a car show and are able to obtain Johnson’s autograph in indelible ink on the lid of a quart fruit jar, you have a priceless souvenir.
Rest in Peace, Junior Johnson. You will be missed.
Jack Hilliard, frequent contributor as a Hugh Morton collection volunteer, reflects on his eleven years of writing blog posts for A View to Hugh. As we approach the end of the year, he looks back to see just how far we have come since he started as a volunteer with the Hugh Morton collection in December of 2008. As it turned out, that first post was based on an event that Hugh Morton didn’t attend—although, at the time, we thought he did. Weather conditions prevented Morton from getting to the 1947 Sugar Bowl game. Since we couldn’t find Morton pictures from the game, we did a brief look at the 50th reunion trip. That first post was titled, “The Tar Heel are Going Bowling…Again.” Now—11 years and 141 blog posts later—Jack looks back at that reunion and his first “V2H” post from December 22, 2008.
As WFMY-TV photojournalist George Vaughn and I stood on the loading platform at the Greensboro train station at 11:30 AM, Tuesday, December 31, 1996 watching the 22-car Norfolk-Southern train pull out of sight, I remembered the Christmas card that I received from Charlie and Sarah Justice in mid-December that had a hand-written-note from Sarah telling me that Charlie would be a participant at the coin-toss before the 1997 Sugar Bowl game in the Louisiana Superdome. It was all part of the 50th anniversary trip for the 1947 UNC Sugar Bowl team. As car number 8 passed by our position, Charlie and Sarah Justice were at the window waving to their many friends and fans.
Greensboro News & Record feature writer Jim Schlosser was on the same platform covering the event. He did an interview with Hugh Morton who said, “Just like Michael Jordan is the most exciting basketball player I ever saw, Charlie Justice was the most exciting football player.” Schlosser’s headline on January 1st read, “Choo Choo, Team Make Tracks for Sugar Bowl.”
Vaughn’s videotape of the Tar Heels leaving Greensboro played back on the WFMY-TV evening news and I sent copies of the report to Morton, UNC All America Art Weiner, and 1946 Tar Heel Gus Purcell. I received thank you notes from all three and Morton and Purcell sent me pictures. I mentioned Morton’s letter in a post on November 4, 2015 titled, “A Game Fit to be Tied.”
Ninety UNC players, team 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. Of course, Morton was one of those special guests.
The 50-yard-line, pre-game coin toss ceremony on January 2, 1997 included UNC’s Charlie Justice and 1946 UNC Co-Captain Ralph Strayhorn. Representing Georgia was their great All-America back Charley Trippi and 1946 Assistant Coach Bill Hartman.
A similar train had left from that same train station on December 21, 1946 and snaked south past the swamps and bayous of South Louisiana, headed for the same for the same “Big Easy” destination. That 13th annual Sugar Bowl game was played in cloudy, misty weather, in Tulane Stadium. It was a great game, played by two great teams, with memorable players making memorable plays—two of which were questionable. But when it was all over the two stars of the game sought out each other near midfield, and as Fred Russell describes in his 1963 book Big Bowl Football, (page 181) the conversation went like this: “Nice going, Charley, you’re a great back,” said Justice, as he clasped Georgia’s All America halfback Charley Trippi’s hand. Said Trippi, “thanks, that’s very nice of you, and I really think the same of you.” As the two All-America players stood shaking hands, the 75,000 in attendance stood and cheered the good display of sportsmanship.
Fifty years to the date the two would meet again in New Orleans at the ‘97 pregame party and this time Hugh Morton would take the “two Charlies” picture that weather had prevented him from taking in ’47. We explained that weather situation in a post on December 28, 2012 titled “A(nother) Morton Mystery Solved.”
The 1997 Sugar Bowl was televised by ABC-TV Sports, but none of the estimated 25 million plus viewers got to see that pregame ceremony conducted by referee Randy Christal of the Big 12 Conference. Viewers did, however, get an extremely brief glimpse as they saw Strayhorn, Justice, and Morton walk behind the broadcast position as play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson, and analysts Bob Griese, and Lynn Swann did their pregame report. I remember how disappointed I was. I sent former Tar Heel and Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan a note the day after the game and he put me in touch with Sugar Bowl Media Relations. Joe Scheuermann sent me a tape of the ceremony, a treasured keepsake that I still have. Another treasured item from the reunion is a book prepared by artist Harold Styers titled Hark the Sound: A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey.
When the train arrived on Wednesday, January 1, 1997 at its location next door to the Superdome, Tar Heel end Bob Cox was interviewed by the Associated Press. He described the 1946 trip saying, “It was a great time. The War was over and we were all so hopeful.” We did a A View to Hugh profile of Bob Cox profile on September 19, 2019 titled “The Amazing Resume of Robert Vinsant Cox.”
Following that opening ceremony, the 63rd Sugar Bowl game between the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles played out before 78,344 fans in the Louisiana Superdome—a Gators win 52 to 20.
The group returned to the Greensboro train station on January 4, 1997 with lots of stories to tell. 1946 UNC co-captain Ralph Strayhorn said, “This reunion trip, there’s absolutely no losing.” We have profiled Strayhorn in a Morton web site post on June 6, 2017 titled “Always on Call for His Alma Mater.” The post included two images from the Sugar Bowl reunion.
The 1946 UNC Tar Heel football team made a monumental step forward in Carolina football history and fifty years after they took a Sentimental Journey back in time. The Chairman of the 1947 Sugar Bowl 50th anniversary was 1946 center, #63, Joe Neikirk. He made it happen. I hope to do his profile for a V2H post in 2020.
When Carolina played its 2019 home opener on September 7th against Miami, there was a certain “electricity” in the air…Head Football Coach Mack Brown was back…the Heels had beaten South Carolina the weekend before and expectations were high. While the feeling was a bit unusual in Chapel Hill, it wasn’t unique. A similar event took place on November 8, 1997, and Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a look back 22 years ago today.
I remember in a 1973 conversation I had with UNC Legend Charlie Justice how excited he was recalling the famous 1948 UNC – Texas game. “People in ten-gallon hats and flashing big money showed up on Franklin Street as early as Thursday before the big Saturday game on September 25th. Tickets were being bought and sold for more than a hundred dollars…big money in those days. There was an excitement in the air…kinda’ like ‘electricity.’ If you were in Chapel Hill for the ’48 Texas game, you will always remember it.”
I was not in Chapel Hill for that big game celebration in 1948, but when I came into Chapel Hill on the afternoon of November 8, 1997 for the Carolina – Florida State game, I sensed what Justice was talking about.
In the early afternoon, Franklin Street was crowded with fans from each team. This time tickets were selling for as much as $500. One downtown merchant was quoted as saying, “I think this is the biggest sporting event this town has ever seen.”
In the southeast corner of Kenan Memorial Stadium, ESPN’s “Game Day” team of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit was set to send the game out across the nation. Major publications like USA Today and The New York Times were represented in the press box along with Sports Illustrated. NFL scouts were there in abundance as were guys in Orange jackets representing the Orange Bowl. Woody Durham and Mick Mixon were in place for the Tar Heel Sports Network. And of course, photographer Hugh Morton was in his place along the Tar Heel sideline.
By late afternoon, Franklin Street looked a lot like it does after a big basketball win. The gray skies and mild temps made for perfect football weather as the 7:30 kickoff approached. The Florida State Seminoles, undefeated under head coach Bobby Bowden, were ranked second in the country while the undefeated Tar Heels were ranked fifth. The newspaper headline above the masthead of Carolina Blue on November 8 simply said: “TITANS COLLIDE AT KENAN.”
Then, just before the start of the game, a very light mist fell on the 62,000 who had jammed into Kenan Stadium. It didn’t last long, however, and all was in order for the game. Newly elected Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford greeted both head coaches just prior to the kickoff. When the clock said 7:30 PM, they began to play the game. Soon, the Seminoles pulled the plug on all that “electricity” from a week of hype and excitement.
Eleven minutes into the game, Florida State had its first score, an eight yard pass from quarterback Thad Busby to tight end Melvin Pearsall. Then at the 4:27 mark of the second quarter it was Busby again—this time a fourteen-yard pass to wide receiver E.G. Green. And just seconds before the end of the first half, Sebastian Janikowski kicked a thirty-two-yard field goal that made the halftime score 17 to 0.
During the halftime break, Coach Bowden told his offensive coaches if Carolina didn’t score on its first drive of the second half, concentrate on the running game and eat some clock. The Tar Heels did not score on its first drive. The teams traded field goals during the remainder of the second half, making the final score 20 to 3. Florida State’s dominance was reflected in the final stats. The Seminoles finished the game with 334 net yards of offense with 19 first downs compared to Carolina’s 73 and 7.
After the two head coaches shook hands at midfield, Coach Bowden turned and walked toward the southeast corner of the stadium where many of the Seminole fans were standing. Just then the Florida State band struck up Happy Birthday, as Bowden waved to the crowd. He had turned 67 on this day in Chapel Hill.
Coach Brown in his post-game news conference said, “I thought the week was a win. All the attention will really help our program. It will help in recruiting. Even though we lost tonight we’ll gain a whole lot out of this.”
The Tar Heels fell from fifth in both national polls to eighth in the AP Media Poll and ninth in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll. Florida State jumped to number one in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll and remained number two in the AP Media Poll.
As the 62,000 fans filed out of Kenan Stadium that night in ’97, there were at least two who had been there in ’48: Charlie Justice and Hugh Morton. But the ’97 outcome was nothing like the one in ’48.
Following a home win against Wake Forest on November 15th and a three-point-loss on November 22nd to Florida, Florida State finished the season 11 and 1 and a national number three ranking. Bowden would remain the head coach at Florida State until 2009 and win a second national championship in 1999.
Carolina would close the season with a win at Clemson and a home win against Duke. They finished the season at 11 and 1 and ranked number six. Following the 1997 regular season, Mack Brown left UNC to become the head coach at Texas. He remained there through the 2013 season, winning a BCS National Championship for the Longhorns in 2005. He returner to UNC in 2019.