Bobby Pope

Rivalry returns for Bulldogs, Tar Heels

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs open their season Saturday against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs open their season Saturday against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome. Georgia Sports Communications.

The Kirby Smart era as the football head coach at Georgia officially begins Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta when the Bulldogs take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Georgia has played in this game just once previously, and as you may remember the Bulldogs wore the Nike Pro Combat uniforms and got throttled by Boise State and Kellen Moore 35-21 to open the 2011 season. Much like the blackout jersey worn against Alabama in 2008, those uniforms haven’t been seen since.

The last time Georgia and North Carolina played was the 1971 Gator Bowl when big brother Vince Dooley got the best of little brother Bill Dooley 7-3. North Carolina was the champion of the ACC while Georgia had suffered only a loss to Auburn. That game marks the only time brothers have ever squared off as head coaches in a college bowl game.

In the NFL, we had the Harbaugh brothers matchup between Baltimore’s John and San Francisco’s Jim in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Tar Heels and Bulldogs have met on the gridiron 30 times through the years with Georgia holding a 16-12-2 lead. The most memorable game ever played between the teams was the 1947 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and was billed as a battle between Southern college football legends, “The Italian Stallion” Charley Trippi of Georgia and North Carolina’s Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice.

Both players were playing after serving stints in the military in World War II. Trippi, who was a senior, had starred at Georgia in 1941 and 1942 before being drafted into the Air Force for two years and then returning to Georgia for the 1945 season while Justice was a freshman after spending four years in the Navy right out of high school.

Trippi was the winner in the battle between the two that day. He rushed for 77 yards and threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Dan Edwards to lead the Bulldogs to a 20-10 victory and a claim to college football’s No. 1 spot and the national championship in some polls. Justice managed just 37 yards on 18 carries.

Trippi, who turns 95 on Dec. 14, is considered by many to be Georgia’s greatest all-around player. He was a two-time All-American in football and was named the MVP in the 1943 Rose Bowl after the Bulldogs beat UCLA 9-0 and were the consensus national champions. Following the 1946, season he was named winner of the Maxwell Award, given to the top football player in the nation, and was the runner-up to Army’s Doc Blanchard for the Heisman Trophy. Trippi’s No. 62 is one of only four ever retired at Georgia.

Following his college career, Trippi played nine seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals, winning a world championship his rookie year. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. He is the only player in the pro hall with 1,000, yards receiving, 1,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

Justice got his nickname “Choo Choo” playing for the Bainbridge Naval Training Center team while in the military service and before he enrolled at North Carolina. An officer said, “He looks like a runaway train. We ought to call him, ‘Choo Choo.’ ”

Following the war, he had the opportunity to go directly to professional football and also had his choice of colleges to, attend and he chose North Carolina. From 1946 to 1949, he led the Tar Heels to a 39-9-2 record and three bowl games. He was named the national college player of the year in 1948 and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1948 to Doak Walker of SMU and in 1949 to Leon Hart of Notre Dame.

Justice played in the single wing at North Carolina and during his career, ran or threw for 64 touchdowns and set a team total-offense record of 4,883 yards, which stood until 1994. Justice, who died in 2003 at the age of 79, played with the Washington Redskins for four seasons, but due to injuries, he never enjoyed the success he had as a collegian.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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