TarHeelIllustrated - No. 1: Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice
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No. 1: Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice

Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice is easily the greatest and most legendary Tar Heel football player of all time.
Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice is easily the greatest and most legendary Tar Heel football player of all time. (UNC Athletics)

*Publisher's note: THI is ranking the top 25 football players in UNC history, gauging each player solely on their careers as Tar Heels. NFL accomplishments do not factor into these rankings.


No. 1

Name: Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice

Position: Halfback

Jersey #: 22

Years: 1946-49

Honors: College Football Hall of Fame; four-time AP All-America; 1948 Walter Camp Memorial Trophy (best player in college football); Maxwell Award (top player in the country) 1948; National Player of the Year (Washington Touchdown Club) 1948; Four-time All-American, Two-time first-team All-America in 1948 and 1949; Four-time All Southern Conference; Two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year in 1948 and 1949; College Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1961.

Notable Stats: 4,883 total yards; 64 combined touchdowns passing and rushing; 42.6 punting average; 14.2 punt return average.

In Closing: Justice was the only two-time runner-up for the Heisman Trophy until Arkansas’ Darren McFadden fell short twice a decade ago. Justice was UNC’s all-time total yardage leader until the early 1990s, as he did everything for the Tar Heels. He ran and passed and even punted for UNC, helping lead the program to its best four-year stretch ever. Carolina finished nationally ranked in all four seasons, including top-10 finishes in three consecutive seasons, and also beat Duke all four times during Justice’s career during a time when the Blue Devils were a nationally relevant program. In addition, Justice led Carolina to its only major bowl appearances – two Sugar Bowls and one Cotton Bowl – before the 2020 Tar Heels reached the Orange Bowl.

An AP All-American in each season, Justice was known for his ability to scramble out of any situation and dodge tackles, which is where the nickname “Choo Choo” came from. He delighted fans so much even a song was produced about him, All The Way Choo Choo, a book and even the main character for Frank Deford’s book, Everybody’s All-American, which was turned into a movie starring Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange.

A terrific player for the Naval base team at Bainbridge, MD, before arriving at UNC, Justice is honored by a larger-than-life statue in front of the Kenan Football Center. Carolina was 32-9-2 during his four seasons. Justice’s jersey No. 22 is retired by UNC and there is a Carolina blue hashmark on the 22-yard-line on the field at Kenan Stadium honoring Justice.