SI Vault
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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A football game, or particularly the Duke game, was the occasion for a week-long celebration. In '48 Charlie Spivak's band played at the "Yackety Yack Beauty Queen Dance" in Woollen Gym on the eve of the Duke game. Bandleader Kay Kyser, who as yell leader in the late '20s had introduced the "Yackety Yack" yell, was also there, along with his wife, Singer Georgia Carroll. Another North Carolinian, Ava Gardner, said she wanted to be there but she just couldn't make it out from Hollywood.

That week four persons—two white, two black—were arrested on a bus in Chapel Hill for violating a law "regulating the seating of white and Negro passengers."

The mayor of Chapel Hill today, Howard N. Lee, is black, and the city, because of the university, is considered the most liberal community in the South, "The Capital of the Southern Mind." The university and the city are inseparable, and it is common for the school to be called, simply, " Chapel Hill." The oldest state university in the nation, it has had an honored history of intellectual freedom and has attracted such creative spirits as Thomas Wolfe who, like Charlie Justice, was born in Asheville. In Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe writes of his alma mater, "The university was a charming, an unforgettable place...buried in a pastoral wilderness...."

It remains that today. John Fischer, writing in Harper's, describes Chapel Hill as the loveliest of all colleges. "Its 500-acre campus, where live oaks shade the classrooms and camellias bloom in December, makes the Harvard Yard look squalid...."

Sunbathers and dogs still lounge on the lawns in front of the old library. Rock music is piped out onto the streets now from the dormitories, and there are concerts at noon. The Rathskeller remains a hangout, but Andy Griffith is only a fading national celebrity, not a promising local one. Black Caesar plays at the Varsity theater. There are no laws about where you sit on buses.

The university has prospered athletically. Its basketball teams are consistently ranked in the Top 20, and under Coach Bill Dooley the football teams have played in three consecutive bowl games. "The game is still a rallying point here," Athletic Director Homer Rice insists. But is it?

"Football players just aren't mythic heroes anymore," says a journalism student. "I can't help but think of them as semipros who are here only to work at playing games. You never seem to see them around."

Sammy Johnson is four inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Charlie Justice was. He is probably faster. He is a tailback in Dooley's I formation, a senior who may be expected to carry the ball from 20 to 30 times a game this season. He has wild bushy black hair which, though he is white, he wears Afro-style. He is very much a model of the modern football player.

"I suppose when I was in high school, I thought all football players were looked up to," he says, finishing lunch at the training table. "But that's not the way it is. I think we're regarded as just ordinary guys. I guess I like it better that way, just being a part of the student body. But then again, maybe deep down I'd like to see what it would be like being a hero, a hero like, say, old Choo Choo. You know, I don't suppose I ever really had a hero when I was a kid. I was a fan c f Don McCauley's, but he wasn't really a hero to me."

McCauley was an All-America halfback at North Carolina three years ago. He scored 21 touchdowns in the 1970 season, five against Duke. He broke several of Justice's school rushing records.

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