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A LONG LOCOMOTIVE FOR CHOO CHOO
Ron Fimrite
October 15, 1973
It has been nearly 25 years since Charlie Justice played his last game at tailback for North Carolina. He was a folk hero at the time—and he still is
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October 15, 1973

A Long Locomotive For Choo Choo

It has been nearly 25 years since Charlie Justice played his last game at tailback for North Carolina. He was a folk hero at the time—and he still is

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Just before the start of Charlie's final season in 1949, Sports Editor Carmichael wrote an open letter to Justice's one-year-old son Ronnie:

"You see, Ronnie, though you have been born into the Hall of Justice, there is one privilege you probably never can be afforded—that of seeing your father play football at Carolina.

"Your father became more than a football player, Ronnie. He was a fable, a legend and a reality all rolled into one...."

Charlie was thumbing through an immense scrapbook in the den of his brick house near the Forest Oak Country Club when he came across the clipping. He read no farther than "Dear Ronnie."

"As much as I enjoyed all that attention," he said softly, "I'd have given it all up if it would have helped my son, given him more confidence. Lord knows the boy wanted to be an athlete. It got so he began thinking he was a big disappointment to me. He got so worried and upset about it that he couldn't perform at all. He'd be the first kid picked in games because of his name. But he just couldn't play up to it. Then it got so I'd try to protect him from this kind of embarrassment. I did a lot of coaching in the midget leagues in those days. Well, it turns out that protecting him was the wrong thing to do, too. The psychiatrists told me 1 should let Ronnie lead his own life. The poor kid was confused. He had two nervous breakdowns. It was just too much for him to live with. But he's stabilized now. Works right here in town. He's gonna be fine. Just fine...."

There were 6,500 students at North Carolina when Charlie was there—about a third as many as there are now. Most of the male students were returning servicemen attending college on the GI Bill, eager to get a degree but just as eager to make up the lime lost to them. There were long evenings then at Jeff's or the new place in "Amber Alley," the Rathskeller, where an undergraduate named Andy Griffith played the guitar and sang country songs.

Fraternities were popular, almost socially obligatory. Men who had spent the last four years in barracks or worse craved the relative luxury, the social prestige of exclusive clubs. Service expressions—"Roger," "Snafu"—blended into the college jargon. The men generally dressed well. Sports coats on campus were not uncommon.

"We dressed up a lot," recalls Kelly Bowles, a Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother of Charlie's, now a successful Greensboro real estate man. "We wanted to. Most of us had been in uniforms for so long that dressing up was a kind of freedom. And we loved parties. I don't guess I've ever partied as much as I did back then."

Charlie and Sarah were not party types. Not only did he not drink, he also did not dance, but he was a loyal fraternity man. He played on all the intramural teams, dined at the house and at least went to the parties. His name alone was worth scores of pledges during rushing. After all, how many fraternity brothers could be found on national magazine covers?

Charlie's personal popularity on campus extended well beyond the fraternity house. His natural friendliness made him a favorite with all the students. "Heck," he says now, "I'd just walk along the campus, messin' around and sayin', 'Hi,' to everybody I saw. You do that now and they'd think you were plumb crazy."

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