One Tar Heel Letterman and two more men with close ties to Tar Heel football are among 11 sports figures who will be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Thursday evening in Raleigh.
Tailback Kelvin Bryant, photographer Hugh Morton and newspaperman Bob Quincy will join the illustrious group of men and women who have earned the highest honors in the state’s expansive sports heritage. Also being inducted are former Tar Heel basketball coach Bill Guthridge and basketball player Tommy Kearns.
Bryant, a Tarboro native, was one of the most explosive running backs in Tar Heel history, even though he was plagued with injuries throughout his four-year college career (he lettered from 1979-82). Yet, during his career, Bryant averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He finished with one carry short of 600 and was at the top of his collegiate game in his sophomore and junior years.
As a sophomore, he split time with Amos Lawrence at tailback, giving the Tar Heels one of the most dynamic duos at the position in ACC history. For his part, Bryant ran for 1,039 yards, including an 81-yard run against Virginia and a 199-yard game against Duke. Then he exploded onto the national spotlight as a junior, getting 211 yards on 19 carries in the season opener against East Carolina, a game in which he scored an ACC-record six touchdowns. He had five more touchdowns a week later against Miami of Ohio and four in the third game against Boston College. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter in any of those games. He finished the season by averaging 6.7 yards per carry and became the school’s third all-time rusher and scorer.
As a pro, Bryant was named United States Football League Player of the Year in 1983 and MVP in the championship game. He also played for the Washington Redskins, where his coach, Joe Gibbs, once said, “When he’s healthy, he’s the best I’ve ever seen at coming out of the backfield.”
The late Hugh Morton was a many-faceted man who turned Grandfather Mountain into one of the state’s treasures and had close ties to the Justice Era of the late 1940s. As a fierce defender of nature, he was one of North Carolina’s most staunch conservationists. Morton was also a world-class photographer, which placed him squarely into the state’s sports realm, and covered thousands of Tar Heel football and basketball games over many decades. His vast collection of photographs includes perhaps one of the most extensive sports collections in the nation, and it documents the men and women who have close ties to both the ACC and the Southern Conference. Morton served as a board member and past president of the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
Many of Morton’s photos filled two books authored by Quincy about the storied career of Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice. Quincy wrote for the Charlotte News and Observer and was sports information director at Carolina from 1962-66. He wrote Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story (1958) and They Made the Bell Tower Chime (1973).
The photograph above was taken by Morton and is one of the most intriguing from the archives of Tar Heel football. There is no ball in the frame, nor any running or leaping or throwing. There is no blocking and no tackling. The setting is not our own Kenan Stadium. There’s not even a face, just a player in a parka and antique black high tops in a fetal position. Is he crying? Is he in pain? Is the game over? Is time out on the field and a game-winning field-goal attempt ensuing?
“Yankee Stadium, 1949,” explained Morton, who counted in the thousands the number of photos he took of Justice over 58 years. “Carolina was playing Notre Dame. Charlie Justice was out with a sprained ankle and played only one play, that to hold for a place-kick. I snapped that picture in the first half, when the score was tied, 6-6.
“The picture got quite a bit of exposure, and people always asked me, ‘What was Charlie doing?’ So one day I asked him. He said he was praying. He was praying that the game would stay close and we’d win it in the end.”
Alas, the Fighting Irish of coach Frank Leahy rolled up the points in the second half and sent the Tar Heels and their thousands of fans who made the pilgrimage to the Bronx back home with a 42-6 defeat.