On this day . . . actually night . . . sixty-five years ago, a sporting event played out on Soldier Field in Chicago that would have a tremendous impact on North Carolina sports history. It was August 11, 1950 when the Chicago College All-Star Game game between the best college players of the 1949 season met the two-time World Champion Philadelphia Eagles. On this special anniversary, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at a football game of epic portions.
Hugh Morton didn’t attend the 17th annual Chicago College All-Star Game, but he was always acutely aware of its place in North Carolina sports history and in the life of one of his closest friends. Morton often included a wire service photograph in his slide shows from that historic night—a night that almost wasn’t historic at all.
It was July 17th, 1950 and UNC’s great all-America football star Charlie Justice was seated behind his desk in the Medical Foundation Building on Pittsboro Street in Chapel Hill. It’s was the first July since 1938 that he wasn’t preparing for the upcoming football season. Soon after taking the Medical Foundation job, the United States Department of State invited Justice to travel to Germany with coaches Jim Tatum of Maryland, Wally Butts of Georgia, and Frank Leahy of Notre Dame to hold football coaching clinics for the armed forces stationed there. In order the make the trip, Justice had to turn down an invitation from Arch Ward (sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and founder of the Chicago College All-Star Game) to play in that year’s game.
The overseas trip never happened because of events that began on June 25th, 1950— events that would later become known as the Korean War. So Justice picked up the phone and called Arch Ward. He asked Ward if the earlier invitation to play in the All-Star game still stands, saying “I’d like to play.”
Ward explained that he had already selected fifty top-notch players for the contest. He also pointed out that the rules of the game allowed only four future NFL players from each NFL team, and that he already had four Washington Redskins’ players. Charlie quickly pointed out that, although he was drafted by Washington, he had no plans to play for them. Ward finally said, “OK, Charlie, if you’re sure you aren’t planning to play for Washington, and you want to be the 51st player on a 50-man team, come on out. We’ll let you return punts and kickoffs.”
“I’ve given the Medical Foundation my word and I’ll be right here come football season,” Charlie told Ward. Justice was on the next flight out. The banner headline in the Chicago Tribune on July 18th read: “NORTH CAROLINA’S JUSTICE JOINS ALL-STARS.”
A crowd of 90,000 was expected on a clear, cool 60-degree summer evening at Soldier Field. The two-time World Champion Philadelphia Eagles won veteran NFL referee Emil Heintz’s opening coin-toss, but head coach Earl “Greasy” Neale’s team couldn’t move the ball, thanks to the defensive efforts of All-Stars Clayton Tonnemaker, Leo Nomellini, Don Campora, and Leon Hart. Justice went in on the punt return team, but the Eagle punt was returned by the All-Stars’ Hillary Chollet to the Stars 46-yard line. As Charlie started off the field, the All-Star head coach, Eddie Anderson, motioned for him to stay on the field. Anderson said, “run this first series, Charlie, so we can get an idea of what kind of defense the Eagles will be using . . . it’ll give us an idea of what offense we should use.”
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Eddie LeBaron pitched out to Justice around the right side and Charlie was off on a thirty-one yard gain. Three plays later it was Justice again, this time for twelve more yards. On the next play All-Star Ralph Pasquariello from Villanova took it over the goal line, and the All-Stars led 7-0. Needless to say, Justice stayed in the game.
On the first play of the second quarter, Justice raced down the sideline for forty-seven more yards. This All-Star drive stalled, but when they got the ball back on an Eagles’ fumble by Clyde Scott, recovered by Hall Haynes (future Justice Redskins teammate) on the Eagle 40, LeBaron dropped back to pass, eluded three pass rushers and finally rifled a pass from his own 40 to Justice who went the distance for a score. The play actually covered a total of 60 yards and Winfrid Smith, writer for the Chicago Tribune, described the play as “the greatest pass play in the history of these games.” Football historian Raymond Schmidt in his 2001 book, Football Stars of Summer said “the All-Stars led the Eagles 14-to-0 at the half and the football world was in shock.”
In the third quarter the Eagles finally scored, but the All-Stars came right back in the fourth with Justice leading the way—this time his 28-yard run plus a 35-yard pass from LeBaron to UNC All-America Art Weiner pass set up Gordon Soltau’s 17-yard field goal that made the final score 17-7. When the dust settled, the All-Stars had gained 221 yards on the ground—an All-Star record that still stands—and Charlie Justice had carried the ball 9 times gaining 133 yards. That’s 14.8 yards per carry. He had runs of 31, 12, 47, and 28 yards. His 133-yard total was 48 yards more than the entire Eagle team gained on the ground. Justice also completed a pass to his UNC teammate Art Weiner for 15 yards and he caught a 35 yard TD pass from LeBaron.
Back in North Carolina, thousands of Tar Heels listened to the game on radio—two of those folks were my dad and me. We sat in our living room in Asheboro listening to WGBG in Greensboro. A summer thundershower blew through the Triangle area and caused the Durham Bulls game with the Raleigh Caps to be postponed, thus giving those fans an opportunity to listen as well.
On Saturday August 12th, Charlie heard on the radio that he had been selected the game’s Most Valuable Player and would received the MVP trophy at halftime of the 1951 game. UNC Coach Carl Snavely would make the presentation. Newsmen and broadcasters covering the game selected the MVP. Justice was a 2-to-1 choice over runner-up LeBaron. Six All-Star linemen got votes. Justice thought LeBaron should have gotten the MVP award. Said Charlie, “Eddie deserves it. He’s a great little quarterback and a fine passer.”
“Never since the MVP voting began in 1938 has the voting been so concentrated,” said Winfrid Smith the next day in the Chicago Sunday Tribune.
A game-action photograph of Justice accompanied a Smith Barrier column on Tuesday, August 15th story naming him the 152nd Greensboro Daily News “Athlete of the Week.” It was the 6th time Justice had received that honor. It was this photograph that Morton copied and included in his slide shows over the years. Though no credit appears in the copy slide nor the Greensboro Daily News, the Sunday, August 13th issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution credits Acme Photos. (Editor’s note: according to the Library of Congress, Corbis purchased the Acme photographic archives. I searched the Corbis website but this image did not turn up.)
On August 17, 1951, Charlie Justice received the 1950 MVP All-Star trophy, presented by UNC Head Football Coach Carl Snavely. That presentation was seen live across North Carolina via the Dumont TV network, WBTV in Charlotte, and WFMY-TV in Greensboro. The TV Network linked 46 stations and the Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) Radio Network had 528 stations.
Said Snavely of his Tar Heel All-American, “You saw Charlie do in last year’s All-Star game what we saw Charlie do many times . . . what we came to expect Charlie to do every time he got on the football field. I doubt if there has been a finer all-around player in football than Charlie.” Charlie’s response was “It’s the highest honor that can come to a football player. . . . I accept the trophy for the entire 50-man All-Star squad. . . . They all should be getting one.”
In a Charlotte Observer column on February 21, 1957 written by Justice, he said, “…I would say without hesitation that the high spot of my career came in the 1950 All-Star game in Chicago.”
In July, 2004, Hugh Morton was the point man for the Charlie Justice statue that now stands just outside Kenan Stadium. In a note to Glenn Corley, the architect who designed the statue-area surroundings, Morton said, one of the Justice informational plaques planned for the area should include “what I feel was one of Charlie’s most exciting accomplishments: MVP for the College All-Star game.” Morton then sent me a note asking, “Can you fill me in on the info of the College All-Stars versus the pros?”
I was honored to fill Morton’s request and today, if you stand in front of the statue, the informational plaque on the far right tells of Justice’s MVP performance of August 11, 1950, sixty-five years ago tonight.