Possibly the best football player to graduate from UNC and one of the best football players to play intercollegiate ball, Charlie Justice played for the Washington Redskins before recurring injuries prematurely ended his professional career.
Born in Asheville, Justice became a high school football legend in the mountains of North Carolina. During World War II, he played for his Bainbridge, Maryland naval base’s team. There, he earned his nickname “Choo Choo.” While watching a game, an officer remarked to a reporter: “Look at that guy run. He looks like a runaway train. We ought to call him Choo Choo.”
After his military service, Justice attended the University of North Carolina from 1946 to 1949 and became a national star. He played various positions, including tailback, quarterback, and punter. He rushed for 3,774 yards and passed for 2,362 yards. His total offense record stood unbroken until 1994.
The Tar Heel football team experienced great success during the immediate post-World War II years. The team appeared twice in the Sugar Bowl and once in the Cotton Bowl—the first three post-season bowls for the Tar Heels. All-American Justice was nominated twice for the Heisman Trophy, but he finished runner-up in the voting in 1948 and in 1949.
After his collegiate career, Justice played for the Washington Redskins in 1950 and from 1952-1954 (four seasons total). Although injuries halted his professional career, his significant accomplishments earned him an induction into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
After his football career ended, Justice returned to the North Carolina mountains and owned and operated an insurance firm. He died in 2003.
New York Times, October 20, 2003 http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/20/sports/charlie-justice-football-star-known-as-choo-choo-79.html (accessed March 30, 2010); North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, "Charlie ‘Choo Choo’ Justice” http://www.ncshof.org/inductees_detail.php?i_recid=92 (accessed March 29, 2010); Press Release, Myrick Honors Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, October 21, 2003 http://www.house.gov/list/press/nc09_myrick/pr102103_choochoo.html (accessed March 29, 2010; Milton Ready, The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Columbia, 2006).