About 200 Attend Funeral For 'Choo-Choo' Justice
Posted October 20, 2003 7:37 a.m. EDT
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice, the elusive North Carolina running back whose football exploits inspired a popular song, was remembered Monday for greatness both on and off the field.
"He was the greatest football player I ever saw, and a better man," teammate Ralph Strayhorn said at a funeral for Justice, held at The Cathedral of All Souls, that was attended by some 200 mourners.
Justice died Friday morning at the age of 79 at his home in Cherryville. A family friend said he had been in declining health for the past five years.
Woody Durham, the longtime radio voice of Tar Heel football and basketball, remembered a childhood shaped by Justice's exploits.
"He was my boyhood hero," Durham said. "Growing up in Mebane, I would go to Chapel Hill and watch Charlie and his teammates perform that Saturday magic."
Also in attendance were William Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system, football coach John Bunting and Athletic Director Dick Baddour.
"You could feel the power in that room today of his family and friends and especially his old teammates at Carolina," Bunting said. "They have such a unique bond that it gives you a special feeling.
"It's a sad day, but a day to celebrate Charlie's life and his accomplishments."
Justice' wife of 60 years, Sarah, attended, seated in her wheelchair. Justice's other survivors include a daughter, Barbara Crews; two granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.
Justice's fame went beyond the football field, and his popularity inspired a song, "All the Way, Choo Choo," recorded by bandleader Benny Goodman in 1949.
In four seasons, No. 22 amassed 64 touchdowns running and passing and set a school total-offense record of 4,883 yards that endured until 1994.
He finished second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, given to the nation's best college football player, in 1948 and 1949.
North Carolina went to the Sugar Bowl twice and to the Cotton Bowl during the Justice era. The Tar Heels lost all three games, but went 32-9-2 while Justice played in Chapel Hill.
In four seasons, Justice scored 234 points and accounted for 64 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,634 yards.
Justice was named four times to the all-Southern Conference team, of which North Carolina was a member before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was Southern Conference player of the year in 1948 and 1949.
Justice went on to play for the Washington Redskins from 1950-1954. He was honored by the Redskins in 2002 as one of the team's 70 greatest players during its 70th anniversary celebration.
He also was the first athlete inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.