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.
“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.”
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.
On this day, October 26, 2019, Carolina’s football Tar Heels will meet Duke for the 106th time, plus it is homecoming on the UNC campus. The winner will capture the Victory Bell.
Earlier this season, when Carolina beat Miami in Kenan Stadium with masterful play in the 4th quarter, the game became one of Kenan’s greatest wins…along with the ’48 Texas win, the ’57 Navy win, and the ’63 Georgia win (among others). One of those “others” was the 1978 Duke game—Coach Dick Crum’s first encounter with the Blue Devils from Durham. What transpired that afternoon is the stuff of legends, as Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard recalls.
The 1978 UNC football season was head football coach Dick Crum’s first, which he would later call “a season of considerable adjustment.” The season got underway with a 14-10 win in Kenan Memorial Stadium against East Carolina. Then came three losses: Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Miami of Ohio. A win at Wake Forest on October 14 snapped the losing streak, but on October 21, rival NC State came into Chapel Hill and dominated the Heels, 34-7. Three road games followed: a win at South Carolina, followed by losses at Richmond and Clemson.
Hugh Morton joined a full house in “Death Valley” to witness a memorable game against Clemson on November 11. The Tigers were picked as an easy winner. After all, their record was 7-1 thus far in the season while Carolina was 3-6. But through the first three quarters, the Tar Heels led 9-6. Then with 9:43 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Clemson finally got its first touchdown of the game to take a 13-9 lead—a lead that lasted.
Two home games in Kenan followed the Clemson contest: Virginia on November 18 and Duke on the 25th. A 38-20 win against UVA set the stage for the famous 1978 game against Duke. Following the Virginia win, Coach Crum reminded his team about the importance of the Duke game. He offered a very special win-incentive, one that I choose to believe changed the outcome of the game. (More about that later.)
Saturday, November 25 was an average fall day with temperatures in the high 40s. At historic Kenan Memorial Stadium, 45,000 fans witnessed the 65th meeting between Carolina and Duke. On the sideline was photographer Hugh Morton in his usual position. Both teams had identical 4-6 records.
The first three quarters were ho-hum, with Duke dominating play. In the opening quarter, Carolina scored first with a Jeff Hayes field goal, then Duke followed at the 8:05 mark with a Scott McKinney field goal. McKinney added two more 3-pointers in the second quarter, and Duke led 9-3 at the half.
The third quarter was scoreless, as was most of the fourth, but with 4:20 remaining on the game clock, Duke quarterback Mike Dunn got loose on a keeper for a 29-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Duke was in control 15 to 3. At this point many of the fans wearing light blue chose to head home. Like Woody Durham use to say, “They must be giving something away in the parking lot.”
But Carolina wasn’t finished. Starting at the Tar Heel 23 yard line, quarterback Matt Kupec completed six of eight passes—covering the needed seventy-seven yards in ninety-six seconds. The final ten yards was a pass to end Bob Loomis. It was his seventh touchdown of the season, tying a record set by legendary Hall of Famer Art Weiner in 1949. Jeff Hayes converted the extra point, and cutting Duke’s lead to 15-10 with 2:46 remaining on the clock.
Carolina’s ensuing kickoff pinned Duke deep in their own territory. The Tar Heels defense held forth. They used their final two timeouts to stop the clock and forced Duke to punt. With 1:42 remaining and starting at the Carolina 39-yard-line, the Tar Heels were able to run ten plays during the next 89 seconds. During that 1:29, it was running back Amos Lawrence for 18 yards, then 4, then 21 more. With the ball at the Duke 18, Kupec passed to end Jim Rouse who stepped out of bounds at the Duke 11. At this point Duke lined up expecting another Kupec pass, but instead it was “Famous Amos” again who shook off tacklers and raced into the east end zone. Kupec’s pass for a 2-point conversion failed, but Carolina led 16-15 with the game clock at 13 seconds. During that final Tar Heel drive, Amos Lawrence was able to top the 1,000 yard mark for his second season in row. Following the scoring drive, the Carolina defense took over and preserved the win.
In his post game interview, Crum said, “That was simply one great football game.”
On Thursday, March 29, 1979, Crum made the 55-minute drive from Chapel Hill to Greensboro where he was the guest speaker at the Greensboro Kiwanis Club meeting. In addition to his speech notes, he also carried with him a very special piece of memorabilia.
Spring football practice was underway in Chapel Hill, so the first part of Crum’s presentation was about those things that define spring practice…momentum, fundamentals, and recruiting. In the audience was a Kiwanian who was also a former UNC football player who understood all that spring practice stuff: Charlie Justice.
This day was Charlie’s first club meeting since his open heart surgery. Back on October 22, 1978, Justice was in Rockingham at North Carolina Motor Speedway where he was scheduled to be the Grand Marshall for the American 500 NASCAR race. But in the early morning hours he suffered chest pains and was transported to the local hospital. About three weeks later, on November 14, the legendary Tar Heel won his greatest victory: successful open heart surgery at Duke University Medical Center. He would later say, “that’s probably the best place for me to have serious surgery. . . You don’t think they would let me die on their watch, do you?”
At the Kiwanis meeting, after all was said about spring football practice and the upcoming UNC season, Crum took out a football that was signed by the 1978 UNC team members. “[In 1978], we had a season of considerable adjustment and needed a little incentive,” said Crum. “We had the Duke game coming up. If you’re not winning at Carolina you want to beat Duke to make things more peaceful in Chapel Hill for the winter. Charlie Justice was in the hospital . . . so after the Virginia game, I told the team if we beat Duke, we’d sign the ball and give it to Charlie.”
“To our players Charlie Justice is a legend.”
“You know what happened? With four minutes to go and trailing 15-3, I call the team in a huddle around me and tell them ‘we’ve got to win this one, remember, for Charlie Justice.'” Crum then called Justice to come forward and accept the game ball—the ball Famous Amos” Lawrence carried across the goal line for a victory over Duke from a ho-hum-game that became a Tar Heel thrill.
On this day three years ago, September 19, 2016, the Tar Heel Nation lost an icon with the passing of Robert Vinsant (“Bob”) Cox. He was 90-years-old. Many Tar Heels remember Bob as a player on the UNC football teams of the late 1940s. While that’s true, there is much, much more to his resume, as Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard recalls.
In the Spring of 2004 when Hugh Morton put together a committee of former UNC football players to critique sculptor Johnpaul Harris’ Charlie Justice statue, Bob Cox (UNC Class of 1949) was one of the first team members selected. Cox would make two visits to Harris’ Asheboro studio during June, 2004 and was instrumental in the final statue presentation which was dedicated in November, 2004 and now stands at the west end of Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Cox was a team member of the Justice Era teams of the late 1940s, having arrived on the UNC campus in 1945 following duty with the United States Marines during World War II. He became a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and was a pass-catching end and place-kicker for the Tar Heels. His 18-yard field goal in the second half of the 1947 Sugar Bowl against Georgia gave Carolina a brief 10-7 lead. When Georgia returned to Chapel Hill for a rematch on September 27, 1947, the pass-catching Cox led a Tar Heel win. The sports headline in the Greensboro Daily News on Sunday, September 28th read:
“End Bob Cox Steals Show.”
Cox was second in team scoring in 1947 and 1948—second only to Justice—and was described as “Mr. Extra Point” by Harold Styers in his 1996 book Hark The Sound: A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey. He also joined Carolina’s golf team when it reformed in 1946 following World War II, and was a member of the 1947 Southern Conference Golf championship team. Cox became a favorite photo-subject of Hugh Morton and following UNC’s great 20-0-win over Duke in 1948, Cox helped carry Charlie Justice off the field. The Morton image of that scene graced the front cover of The State on December 4, 1948.
Following his UNC graduation on June 6, 1949, the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals drafted Cox but he chose to stay at Carolina and attend graduate school. He also became a member of Head Football Coach Carl Snavely’s coaching staff, working with the varsity ends and the freshman teams from 1949 thru 1951.
Cox has two degrees from UNC: a BA and MA in physical education. Following his time at UNC, he became a member of the Carolina Clowns, a basketball team featuring several former Tar Heel athletes. The Clowns formed in 1949, offering those Tar Heels an opportunity to stay in shape and at the same time raise money for various charity events.
Over the years the Clowns’ roster changed as new players became available while others moved on to different endeavors. Cox joined UNC football players Charlie Justice, Art Weiner, Joe Wright, Jim Camp, Kenny Powell, Sid Varney, Don Hartig, Hosea Rodgers, and Jack Fitch, among others.
About the same time he was playing for the Clowns, Cox operated a Chapel Hill clothing store on Franklin Street called “Town & Campus.” The store was a favorite for ten years. During that time, he was also a member of the Chapel Hill Junior Chamber of Commerce and in 1957 was elected President of the North Carolina Junior Chamber. Then, he was elected President of the United States Jaycees in 1958. As President of the U. S. Chamber, he was a judge at the famous Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the pageant on September 6, 1958, Cox and follow judges selected Mary Ann Mobley from Mississippi as Miss America of 1959 before a national TV audience of 60 million on CBS-TV.
In December of 1961, when the city of Asheville celebrated “Charlie Justice Day,” two former Justice teammates were part of the celebration: Art Weiner and Bob Cox. The Asheville Citizen published a picture of the three on the front page of its December 2, 1961 issue.
Bob could often be seen on campus during Graduation/Reunion weekends and in 1989 he led the annual “Saturday Morning in Chapel Hill” before a full house in Memorial Hall. The topic that May morning, “Why Did We Have it So Good and What Made Us Different?” The program featured a panel of 1940s and 1950s Tar Heel legends including Hugh Morton who presented one of his slide shows.
I remember calling Bob in the late summer of 1996 when I was working with him on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Golden Era teams. I didn’t get an answer when I called, so I called back several minutes later. When I told him I had called earlier, he said, “I was in the car and I don’t talk on the phone while I’m driving. Don’t want to put anyone in danger if my distraction might cause an accident.”
In 1999, Bob Cox was selected to head the class of 1949’s 50th reunion. In the spring of ’99, he wrote a letter to his fellow classmates. In that letter, he said:
“To do anything for 50 years is quite a feat. We are indeed fortunate to be in that elite group that makes up the Class of ’49, which allows us to ask ‘Do you remember when…’
“The walks were gravel; Justice was running rampant at Kenan; Woodhouse was enthralling us on the beauties of ‘Poli-Sci’; Graham, House, and Carmichael were doing their thing at South Building; and hysteria-in-the-wisteria made the Arboretum more than just a name on the sign.
“We are blessed and privileged to call ourselves ‘Alums’ of the University of North Carolina. The years there were absolutely magic; but, even though those years were a special time, appreciation for the contributions of UNC has grown. The UNC reward continues throughout and we should be grateful—emotionally, spiritually, politically, and oh yes, financially.
“Let’s all make a pledge to stay in touch and do what we can to ensure that Carolina’s greatness will continue to grow and prosper. After all, we’re the Class of ’49 and that makes us special. Don’t you agree?”
The letter appeared in the “50th Revised Yackety Yack: Carolina Class of 1949”
Bob was a financial advisor professionally, but he loved fishing, playing tennis, and gardening. He was often called “Rosebud” because of the beautiful roses he grew.
Finally, during one of those Justice statue visits mentioned earlier in this post, Cox provided the question that prompted one of my favorite Hugh Morton stories. It was during a visit on June 21, 2004. After all of the players had added comments for Johnpaul Harris to note, Morton decided it was time to take some pictures. As he was meticulously checking focus with his trusty 35mm camera, Cox asked, “Hey, Hugh, do you have one of those new digital cameras?”
Morton’s answered,” I sure do,” as he reached down in his camera bag and pulled out a digital camera. “This is a good one,” said Hugh. “It has all the bells and whistles.”
Morton then put the digital camera back in his camera bag and continued taking shots with his conventional 35mm camera.
I don’t know if Bob Cox ever met best-selling author Tom Brokaw; but I choose to believe Robert Vinsant “Bob” Cox could very easily be the poster-boy for “The Greatest Generation.”
This post comes from regular contributor Jack Hilliard, who takes another look at the man “Still Alone at the Top” because today, May 18th, marks a special day for long time Tar Heels like Jack.
On this day, in 1924, a boy was born in the Emma community of Asheville. He would grow up to be the greatest athlete to ever play sports at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
UNC’s Michael Jordan was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of all time, and thanks to the emergence of the 24/7 cable sports channels, and in the latter part of his playing career the internet, Jordan’s heroics became all access, all the time. His image has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated more than sixty times . . . so far. And it’s no surprise that he also has seventy-eight mentions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy.
In the fall of 1999 when UNC’s campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel selected a panel of Tar Heel sports experts to determine the ten greatest UNC athletes of all time, many long-time Tar Heels, like me, thought Michael would be the top vote getter. Each week the paper listed one of the top ten athletes, and as expected, Jordan beat out Phil Ford, Mia Hamm, Lawrence Taylor, Lennie Rosenbluth, B. J. Surhoff, and Sue Walsh. In fact, Jordan beat out every other Tar Heel athlete, except one. He finished second to Charlie Justice.
Justice never had his picture on a Sports Illustrated cover and was never mentioned on Jeopardy. When Justice played for Carolina during the seasons between 1946 and 1949, there were no 24/7 cable sports channels. In fact there was no TV in North Carolina at that time and the Internet was decades away.
I once asked Justice, “How did you become so famous without TV or the Internet.” Said Justice, “I didn’t need ‘em, I had Jake Wade writing stories and Hugh Morton taking pictures.” (Jake Wade was the award-winning Sports Information Director for UNC from 1945 until 1962).
I remember getting up early on the morning of Monday, November 29, 1999 and driving from Greensboro to Chapel Hill. I wanted to make sure that I got a copy of The Daily Tar Heel. It didn’t take me long to find that collector edition of the paper with the Section B headline that said “The Making of a Legend,” with Charlie’s life story filling the page. To support the DTH story, there were three Justice pictures, two of which were taken by Hugh Morton: the photograph above that opens this post, and the one that follows (but cropped to include only Justice).
In an interview on October 18, 2003, Hugh Morton had this to say about his dear friend: “Clearly the most exciting football player I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of them.” And as for Justice’s life after football, Morton added this: “There was not a worthy cause in this state he didn’t support. He used his fame to do good things. He wasn’t charging for it, he just wanted to do it.”
So, on this day, May 18, 2019, a tip-of-the-hat to Tar Heel Legend Charlie “Choo Choo Justice” who would have turned 95. If a survey were taken on the UNC-CH campus all these years later, I don’t believe there would be many, if any, students who knew him or ever saw him play. That is their loss, because it’s doubtful we’ll ever see the likes of Charlie Justice again.
Editor’s Note This post is a follow-up to the post, “Mack Brown’s Return to Kenan Stadium” published on September 11 earlier this year. As we were preparing today’s post honoring Mack Brown for his induction into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame, UNC and Chancellor Carol Folt and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham announced during a noontime press conference on November 27 that Brown will return to coaching duties for Carolina. Brown then stepped to the podium and addressed the gathered media. “Sally and I love North Carolina, we love this University and we are thrilled to be back. The best part of coaching is the players—building relationships, building confidence, and ultimately seeing them build success on and off the field. We can’t to wait to meet our current student-athletes and reconnect with friends, alumni and fellow Tar Heel coaches.” On December 4, 2018, former Head Football Coach Mack Brown will become the twelfth UNC Tar Heel and the twenty-second Texas Longhorn to be inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. The dinner ceremony from 8:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. EST can be watched via a livestream on ESPN3. Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a look at Brown’s thirty-year head coaching career.
When it’s all over, your career will not be judged by the money you made or the championships you won. It will be measured by the lives you touched. And that is why we coach. —Mack Brown in One Heartbeat (2001), page 173.
It was November 18, 1989. Tar Heel head football coach Mack Brown had just suffered one of the worst defeats of his entire coaching career at the end of a second 1-and-10 season. But Brown felt a personal obligation to come back up on the Kenan Stadium field because the Raycom TV crew wanted one more seasoning-ending interview. By the time Brown finished his locker room and media conference duties, the late November sun was setting far beyond the west end of the historic stadium, and most all of the 46,000 fans who had filled the stands earlier had headed home. About midway through the interview, Brown was distracted by cheering from the far end zone. He turned and looked. What he saw was unbelievable. Duke head coach Steve Spurrier had come out of the visitor dressing room and assembled his team around the still-lighted scoreboard, which read 41 to 0. The Blue Devil photographers were snapping away. Brown paused for several seconds, and then said, “We’ll remember that.” Coach Brown never lost again to Duke University during his entire coaching career.
Mack Brown began his successful head-coaching career at Appalachian State in 1983, leading the Mountaineers to a 6-5 record—their first winning season in four years. Then following a successful season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Hall of Fame coach Barry Switzer, he became the head coach and athletic director at Tulane in 1985, where he led the Green Wave to a 6-6 record in his final season in 1987 and earned a trip to the Independence Bowl. It was only the fifth bowl appearance for Tulane since 1940.
Following his time at Tulane, Brown was hired by UNC Athletic Director John Swofford, just in time for the big 100th anniversary of Carolina football during the 1988 season. But those first two seasons at Carolina were dreadful, showing only two wins and twenty losses. With the 1990 season, however, things were turned around and during the next eight seasons, Brown added sixty-seven additional wins—tied for the second most victories in school history. The team was bowl-bound every year beginning in 1992, including a win in the 1993 Peach Bowl. The Atlantic Coast Conference named Brown ACC Coach of the Year in 1996. Brown led Carolina to three ten-win seasons, while the team finished in the top twenty-five four times, including tenth in 1996 and fourth in 1997.
During his time in Chapel Hill, Brown became good friends with Hugh Morton and visited often at Grandfather Mountain. In fact, Brown built a home there. And he was instrumental in the construction of another home . . . this one in Chapel Hill and it goes by the name Frank H. Kenan Football Center, completed in 1997.
It was Saturday, September 13, 1997. Carolina was hosting a late afternoon game with Stanford. Coach Brown and one of his assistants, Cleve Bryant, who had been an assistant at Texas, were on the Kenan field watching the Tar Heels warm up, when on the stadium public address system, announcer Dave Lohse started giving some scores from the early games. He then gave a halftime score: UCLA 38, Texas 0.
Said Bryant, “that can’t be right.” Coach Brown didn’t pay much attention; he was intent on the game at hand. About two hours later, up in the Kenan press box, UNC Sports Information Director Rick Brewer handed some final scores to announcer Lohse. As he did so, he said. “I think we just lost our football coach.” Brewer was fully aware of Brown’s admiration for Texas football history and tradition. Lohse then read the final score: UCLA 66, Texas 3. When Bryant heard that score, he turned to Brown and said, “I wouldn’t want to be in Austin, Texas tonight.” From that moment, for the next eighty-four days, speculation was rampant: would Mack Brown leave a place he dearly loved, for an opportunity of a lifetime? Finally, on Wednesday, December 3, 1997 it became official: Mack Brown would be the new head football coach at the University of Texas.
Coach Brown’s time in Austin was legendary. His 158 career Texas wins are second only to Hall of Fame Coach Darrell Royal in Longhorn history. During the 2005 season, Brown guided Texas to its first national championship in 35 years after defeating Southern California in the 2006 Rose Bowl in one of the greatest games in college football history. In 2009, Brown became Big 12 Coach of the Year while winning his second conference title. He would become a two-time National Coach of the Year and won more than 10 games in 9 consecutive seasons. He also won 10 bowl games while in Texas.
Over his 30-year-coaching-career, Brown coached 37 First Team All-Americas, 6 Academic All-Americas, 110 first team all-conference selections and 11 conference Players of the Year. He also coached 2 College Football Hall of Famers in Tar Heel Dre Bly and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams at Texas; and 4 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athletes, including Campbell Trophy winners Sam Acho and Dallas Griffin also at Texas. Brown posted 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1990 to 2009 and his 225 wins from 1990 to 2013 were the most among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches during those years. He has a total of 244 wins—tenth most by a coach in FBS history. He led teams to 22 bowl games.
Among his personal honors, Brown is a member of the Texas Longhorns Hall of Honor. He is also enshrined in the Rose Bowl, State of Texas Sports, State of Tennessee Sports and Holiday Bowl halls of fame. Until November 27th, he served as a college football studio and game analyst at ESPN and served as a special assistant at Texas.
Mack Brown and wife, Sally, have helped raise millions of dollars for children’s charities, and Mack was recently named the Football Bowl Association’s Champions Award recipient for 2019. He was also honored in the Blue Zone at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, August 12, 2018 for his upcoming December 4th induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Toward the end of the Blue Zone ceremony, Brown came to the podium and acknowledged many Tar Heels in the audience. There was John Swofford, the Carolina athletic director who hired him and then after those 1-10 seasons gave him a contract extension. There were former assistant coaches Darrell Moody and Dan Brooks, who had been so very important in those early recruiting efforts. And there were former Tar Heels from eras before Brown arrived as a 36-year-old head coach. “You guys were the ones who made this place special and gave us something we could sell,” Brown said.
There were about fifty Tar Heels present from Brown’s time in Chapel Hill. Also in attendance was UNC 1970 All-America Don McCauley who is also a College Football Hall of Famer, Class of 2001.
“I’m not going into the Hall of Fame, I am presenting you all in the Hall of Fame. Football is the ultimate team sport, and no one person is ever the one that wins a football game. When I take that oath in December and I say ‘thank you’ to the Hall of Fame, I’m doing it for each one of you. Your name in my mind will be in the Hall of Fame forever.” Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham added, “Brown’s legacy wasn’t just about winning; it was about developing young men to be successful after football.”
Part of the celebration was a panel discussion with several former Tar Heel players talking about Brown and his Chapel Hill legacy. One of those players was fellow Hall of Famer Dre Bly who spoke of getting a sideline dressing down in his first game as a Tar Heel in the 1996 season opener against Clemson, a 45-0 Tar Heel landslide.
“The play was on our sidelines, a ball into the flat. I made a big hit. I was high-stepping and celebrating. Coach Brown grabbed my facemask and had a few select words for me. He said, ‘We don’t do that here.’ I knew then and there, I had to remain humble. I learned the importance of being humble. I saw the big picture, I understood what’s important. We had a very talented team. I couldn’t be the one to mess it up. I needed to remain humble, and I’ve used that my whole life.” (I wish the UNC head football coaches that followed Brown would have maintained that same high standard.)
I believe it’s safe to say, whether you view it as Burnt Orange or Carolina Blue, Brown’s legacy is secure, and on Tuesday night, December 4, 2018, he will stand for the administration of his induction as the citation of his accomplishments is read—this year in the Trianon Ballroom of the New York Hilton Midtown, just as coach Darrell Royal and Bobby Layne of Texas and coach Carl Snavely and Charlie Justice of Carolina stood years before in the Grand Ballroom of the historic Waldorf-Astoria—as William Mack Brown will be honored as a new member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Coach Brown will make the official response on behalf of the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class.
Ten days after future UNC football legend Charlie Justice led his undefeated Bainbridge Naval Training Station football team to a 46-to-0 win over the University of Maryland, he went on a well-deserved leave. At the same time, Sarah Alice Hunter took a brief leave from her job at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D. C. The two headed back home to Asheville, North Carolina where they were married at Trinity Episcopal Church.
During the next 59 years, 10 months, and 23 days, Charlie Justice would be interviewed numerous times. During most of those interviews, he would, at some point, say “the best thing I ever did was to ask Sarah to marry me.” Intro: They played the 80th meeting between Carolina and Duke on November 26, 1993—a chilly, gray Friday morning—at 11 o’clock. My guess is that ABC-TV wanted it played on that day at that time. As it turned out, that was a good thing because the game ended about 2:30 PM, in plenty of time for a very special celebration in “the living room of the University” across campus. Today, on the day Charlie and Sarah Justice would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back 25 years at their 50th celebration.
A few minutes after Carolina beat Duke 38 to 24 in the 1993 edition of their annual in-state rivalry, (thanks to freshman running back Leon Johnson’s 142-yard-and-4-touchdown day), many of us headed across campus to the historic Carolina Inn, where family and friends of the special couple were gathering. Although Charlie and Sarah Justice’s fiftieth wedding anniversary was actually on November 23rd, game day on the 26th seemed like a good time to celebrate the storybook event of November 23rd, 1943.
In addition to celebrating the Justice’s fiftieth anniversary, the event also honored the memory of their son Charles Ronald (Ronnie), who had passed away on Friday, June 11, 1993 at their home in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
This is how the Justice’s chose to invite their guests:
There were family members, teammates, friends, and fans in attendance.
The Carolina Inn ballroom provided the perfect backdrop for the elegant event and the many guests surrounded a large buffet table with roast beef, salmon, fruits, and cheeses. The centerpiece was a large ice sculpture depicting a locomotive celebrating Charlie’s football career when he was called “Choo Choo.”
At the right side of the room was a video player and large screen where highlights of Charlie and Sarah’s fifty years together were shown. I had the honor of producing that video presentation which was narrated by North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame broadcaster Charlie Harville.
Following a family toast by Barbara (Justice) Crews, Charlie and Sarah’s daughter, head football coach Mack Brown added his congratulations and then offered an additional toast. He then spoke of the importance of Carolina’s football history and heritage. After Brown concluded his words about Carolina’s Golden Age during the late 1940s, Justice stepped forward and thanked the coach for restoring football respectability “for my University.”
During the entire celebration, photographer Hugh Morton was there documenting every phase of the event: from a group shot of the Justice team mates to a funny shot of Charlie and Sarah holding up special tee shirts prepared for the party, a shot that appeared in the February, 1994 edition of The University Alumni Report newspaper on page 34.
So, on this day, November 23, 2018, I choose to believe that Charlie and Sarah Justice are once again celebrating their storybook life together on their 75th wedding anniversary. Joining the celebration is son Ronnie, and just as he was 25 years ago, Hugh Morton is there with camera in hand.