"Everybody else can grow old," Charlie said, laughing. "Everybody else can get bald and fat. But we're not supposed to. We're not supposed to lose our hair and put on weight. We're supposed to look the same, to be little boys all our lives."
The "we" would be those magical old football heroes of the late '40s, heroes like himself. He was merely amused by this aberrant bestowal of eternal youth. Charlie and the still lovely Sarah have grown older comfortably. After a brief but reasonably successful professional career with the Washington Redskins and a largely unsuccessful venture into the oil business back in North Carolina, Charlie is doing well in his own insurance agency—" Charlie Choo Choo Justice and Associates"—in Greensboro, only an hour's drive from Kenan Stadium.
Charlie was driving by Kenan now. "I don't know how to describe the feeling," he said, "but I just loved it all. I loved Carolina, the people here, and I loved football. It was right after the war and folks had been penned up so long, they just had to let go. But everybody was respectful of one another here. It was a good time.
"I suppose I could have been a lot of things. A musician, maybe, or even an artist, but what I was was a football player, and that's all I ever wanted to be. I didn't even mind practice. Heck, I would've stayed out there all night if they'd let me."
He still cocks his head in self-deprecation, and he is still affable. He is still Charlie. He laughed at his own timeless enthusiasm, then turned the Cadillac away from the stadium and up into the hilly, wooded section of Chapel Hill where the university administrators and ranking faculty members live.
"Now over there, through those trees is where old W. D. Carmichael used to live. He's gone now. He was a wonderful man. Treated me just like a son. He was a big businessman in New York, you know, a stockbroker on Wall Street. But he loved Carolina so much, he just came on back and took a job as comptroller here at the university. He was a very smart man, but he knew sports had a place."
The animated face froze for a moment. "I tell you, if there's anything that makes me mad—and not much does—it's people saying football players are dumb. They are lazy sometimes, maybe, but not dumb. Can't be. About, oh, a dozen years ago somebody wrote in The Daily Tar Heel, the campus newspaper, that Carolina was all through having football bums on campus, like the ones they had back in the late '40s. Now that really got me, so I just sat right down and wrote a letter to that paper. 'Bums!' I wrote 'em. 'Who are you callin' bums? Why, you should have so many bums like that," I said. Then I went right down the roster of our team: 10 master's degrees, eight lawyers, seven dentists, four presidents of big corporations. I gave it to "em position by position. Look at old Art Weiner, an All-America end. Now he's an executive vice-president at Burlington Industries. Is that a bum? Then I got to tailback. 'Here,' I said, 'maybe you got a point after all. This is the only failure on the whole damn team.' "
Charlie slapped the steering wheel of the car in glee. He looked around for some appreciation of the line joke he had told on himself. Sarah, her dark hair turned gray now, smiled affectionately.
They seem like phantoms, these All-America football heroes of nearly 25 years ago. If we do not condemn them to a lifetime of boyhood, we speak, of them as if they were long dead. "Say, whatever did happen to old Choo Choo Justice?" Choo Choo thrives, of course, and so do his contemporary deities.
Georgia's Charley Trippi, after a football career that earned him enshrinement in both the college and professional halls of fame, has returned to Athens, Ga., where he has real estate holdings that include two liquor stores. It is but a 10-minute drive from his handsome brick house to the University of Georgia campus. He is 50 years old.