|Munson's calls are the stuff of legend for Georgia fans. (AP)|
I will never forget the first time I came face to face with Larry Munson, the legendary radio voice of the Georgia Bulldogs.
It was Oct. 11, 1975, and I was covering Georgia's game at Ole Miss for the Red & Black, the student newspaper at UGA. I was a junior at Georgia and had just joined the staff because I had this silly idea I could be a sportswriter. So the sports editor called my bluff and sent me to Oxford, Miss.
I arrived at Hemingway Stadium (John Vaught's name would not be added until 1982) about four hours before the game. The stadium was completely empty except for a lone, tall figure sitting in the stands waiting for the press box to open.
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It was Larry Munson.
He didn't say hello. I sure as hell wasn't going to speak first. I was greener than grass and this was the great Larry Munson. Finally, he broke the silence.
"Hey, kid. You do realize that we're in big trouble over here today."
He was right. The final from Oxford: Ole Miss 28, Georgia 13.
On that day in 1975, Munson was in his 10th season as Georgia's radio voice. He was in his 43rd season when he finally stepped away from the microphone on Sept. 22, 2008. That incredible voice -- the one that called every touchdown Herschel Walker scored; the one that called all six of Vince Dooley's SEC championships and both of Mark Richt's; the one that had several generations of Georgia fans hanging on his every word -- was finally silenced on Sunday when Munson passed away at the age of 89.
"There has never been another one like him," said Dooley, the Hall of Fame coach. "And there probably never will be again."
Munson, who became Georgia's radio voice in 1966, had a unique bond with what he called "The Bulldog Nation." He was of that generation of broadcasters who were synonymous with their schools: Cawood Ledford at Kentucky; John Ward at Tennessee; Bob Fulton at South Carolina; John Forney at Alabama; Woody Durham at North Carolina; Jack Cristil at Mississippi State; Otis Boggs at Florida; Al Ciraldo at Georgia Tech. The list goes on forever.
Even when all the games were televised, fans of these schools would turn down the TV sound and turn on the radio to listen to their voice. Nothing that happened was official until their voice put his blessing on it.
And Larry Munson's voice was the one who implored his beloved Bulldogs to "Hunker down one more time!" when the game was on the line. His voice was the one that proclaimed "Look at the Sugar falling out of the sky" when Georgia claimed the 1982 SEC championship. His voice screamed "We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose" when Georgia won in the final seconds at Tennessee in 2001.
Understand that Larry Munson made no pretense of objectivity. He was for Georgia and felt it was his job to do whatever it took -- criticize, scream or beg -- to get the Bulldogs through another game. To that end he was the eternal pessimist. In his mind every team was bigger, faster and stronger than Georgia. Dooley used to have coffee with Munson every Saturday morning before the game. He finally had to quit that routine.
"I would walk in there feeling pretty good about our team and our game plan," said Dooley, who retired as coach in 1988. "By the time I got done talking to Larry, I didn't think we had a chance."
Munson endeared this loyalty even though he was not a Son of the South. He was born in Minneapolis with a love of hunting and fishing that he learned from his father. He entered the military after Pearl Harbor. He never saw action and was discharged early because a childhood accident took away his sense of smell (it's a great story but I don't have time to tell it). He took his $250 discharge pay and enrolled in broadcast school because he heard there would be a need for radio broadcasters after the war.
He was befriended by Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame broadcaster, who told Munson he would never make any money in radio unless he got to Major League Baseball. That dream finally came true in 1966 as Munson was hired as part of the broadcast team when the Milwaukee Braves moved south to Atlanta. On his way to his first spring training with the Braves in West Palm Beach, Fla., Munson stopped in Atlanta and picked up a newspaper. He learned Georgia was looking for a new radio play-by-play man. He called Joel Eaves, Georgia's athletics director, and got the job.
Munson only lasted two years with the Braves because he could not get along with the egotistical Milo Hamilton. He remained the voice of Georgia football for more than four decades.
Munson's radio calls are the stuff of legend in this part of the world. In the 1970s school officials started putting them on cassette tapes and selling them to an eager fan base that would play them over and over during their tailgates and memorize them word for word.
I'll share just one with you here because it encapsulates everything Munson meant to the Georgia people. It is so famous that it is simply known as "Run, Lindsay, Run!"
The year was 1980 and Georgia was undefeated and ranked No. 2 as the Bulldogs headed to Jacksonville to play Florida. The Bulldogs trailed 21-20 in the final two minutes and had the ball at their own 7-yard line. It appeared Georgia's dreams of playing for the national championship were over. Then on third down, Buck Belue threw a short pass over the middle to wide receiver Lindsay Scott. A Florida defender slipped and Scott raced 93 yards for a touchdown and into immortality. When Scott scored, Munson never said "touchdown!" He just screamed "Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!"
But the vintage Larry Munson came after the most important play in Georgia football history had ended.
Munson purposely went silent for almost a minute and let the crowd noise tell the story. He told me it was something he had learned listening to the great Vin Scully. Then, as the enormity of the play began to sink in to his audience, Munson said this:
"This is incredible! You know, this has always been called the World's Greatest Cocktail Party. Do you know what is going to happen here tonight and up at St. Simons and Jekyll Island and all of those places where all those DAWG people have got these condominiums for four days? Man, is there going to be some property destroyed tonight!
"26 to 21! Dogs on top! We were gone! I gave up. You did too. We were out of it gone. Miracle!"
Munson said for the longest time he would never write a book about his life.
"I heard Sean Connery interviewed one time and he said people wrote nothing but lies about him," Munson said. "So I didn't want to do it."
But Larry changed his mind and I was honored when his family asked me to do the book. For about four months we met three times a week. We talked about everything. I would go into every interview with a specific plan of what we would talk about. Invariably, Larry would take us off into a completely different direction. And it was always a fun direction.
And we laughed. Man, did we laugh.
Munson was a very good piano player as a teenager. His mother was classically trained and tried to get Larry to do the same. But he was stubborn and just wanted to learn by ear.
"It was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made," he said. "I was lazy."
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was making its tour stop in Minneapolis when Larry was still in high school. Dorsey's piano player got sick and so the call went out for local talent. Munson was picked and played with Tommy Dorsey for a week. Dorsey had just hired a new lead singer -- a skinny kid from Hoboken, N.J. You may have heard of him. His name was Sinatra.
"Good god. The ladies loved him," Munson said.
Larry Munson loved fishing more than life itself. He had a movie group of more than 20 beautiful co-eds who made weekly trips to the theater. Larry would buy all the tickets until the theater manager decided he could not let the Voice of the Bulldogs go broke and so let them in for free. Every year Larry's movie group would get dressed to the nines and hold a huge Christmas party.
I remember when we were about to wrap up the book and my regular visits were coming to an end. I knew I was going to miss seeing him and got the sense that he felt the same way. Of course we never talked about it.
I showed up at his house one day in August and he didn't say hello. He just looked at me very intently as I walked in the door and started hammering me with questions:
"Do you realize that we've [Georgia] got to go to Oklahoma State?
"Do you understand that we can't possibility keep up with those people? They are too fast.
"Have you noticed how thin our offensive line is?
"Do you realize it's going to be hot as hell out there?"
"How in the hell do you even get to Oklahoma State?"
"And if you get there, how in the hell do you get back?"
That was Munson.
An incredible talent. An incredible voice. A truly incredible man.
Thanks for the memories, Larry. They are more precious than you could ever know.
To listen to Larry Munson's greatest calls, go to LarryMunson.com.
To get more information on Tony's book about Larry Munson, go to TonyBarnhart.com.
Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Network.