Larry Munson

One of the great thrills of my life was being a guest with Larry Munson for a Georgia football game. This was a thrill for a two reasons. One is that college football in the South is religion … and Larry Munson was Billy Graham. He did not call Georgia football games, he preached football games — with humor and gospels and hell and brimfire and the story of miracles.

“Lindsey Scott! Thirty-five, forty. Lindsey Scott! Forty-five, forty! Run Lindsey! Twenty-five, twenty, fifteen, ten, five! Lindsey Scott! Lindsey Scott! Lindsey Scott! … I can’t believe it, 92 yards, and Lindsey really got in a foot race. I broke my chair. I came right through a chair. A metal steel chair with about a five-inch cushion. The booth came apart. The stadium, well, the stadium fell down.”

That was how Larry Munson called Lindsey Scott’s 92-yard catch and run when Georgia beat Florida, almost certainly the most remarkable and significant play in Georgia football history. Lindsey ran. A chair broke. The booth came apart. The stadium fell down. Amen. Please turn to page 345 in your hymnal and sing with the choir: “Herschel: My God, A Freshman.”

Larry Munson called Georgia football games for more than 40 years, and he called them joyously, passionately, colorfully and, yes, through Bulldog red glasses. The Bulldogs were the good guys. The Bulldogs were “We.” A good day was a day that Georgia won. But, at least in my memory, he was not the sort of annoying hometown announcer who bashes the officials endlessly or believes that his team is getting cheated or that they can do no wrong. He was a different kind of fan. In truth, Munson was hard on Georgia … as fans often are hard on their own teams. He had learned from the master of poor mouthing — Georgia’s legendary coach Vince Dooley — that the other team had AMAZING talent and INCREDIBLE coaching and it would take a REMARKABLE effort just to stay on the field with them, even if that other team was 0-8 and did not offer scholarships.

If you could sum up the Munson Georgia perspective it was roughly this: “We might win, but it will take some real doing.”

But what made Munson wonderful was not his perspective but his style. He did not grow up in the South. He was a Minnesota kid. He was a medic in World War II and his first two jobs were in North Dakota and Wyoming. But when he got to the American South he found that his rhythms and the Georgia rhythms clicked. His gravel voice was cigarettes and gin, and his method was Flannery O’Connor and Lewis Grizzard and James Brown.

He did not say that the clock was moving too slow. He said: “Somebody poured molasses on the clock!”

When Georgia beat Auburn to get to the Sugar Bowl he shouted: “Look at the sugar falling from the sky!”

When Georgia scored a game-winner against Tennessee he said: “We just stepped on their face with a hobnailed boot!”

When the defense needed a stop, he shouted “Hunker down!” When the opponent scored he talked about “our hearts were torn out and bleeding.” When Herschel Walker ran over defenders on his first carry, Munson did indeed finish the call with the now famous: “My God, a freshman.”

Receivers ran out of their shoes. Running backs kept moving forward even after their heads were chopped off. Defenders destroyed. Crowds went worse than bonkers. And nobody in sports — I mean nobody in sports — used the word “whatchamacallit” more creatively, poetically and spectacularly than Larry Munson. He used “whatchamacallit” the way Springsteen used cars.

My friend Tommy Tomlinson went to Georgia, and we would both listen to Munson games and call each other with our favorite moments. One moment stands above all else. There was the night Georgia was playing in a rainstorm in Mississippi, and the sideline reporter Loran Smith — “whadyagot Loran?” was the rhythmic and reluctant-sounding cry from Munson during games — announced that with the lightning crashing all around him, he was going to leave the sideline and find safety.

And this is what I recall Munson saying: “He says he’s going to call it a night, but I think Loran going to a local cemetery to find a dead man named John Daniels.”

I called Tommy, who of course was trying to call me at the same time. Tommy seemed to remember (and still remembers) hearing Munson say “Jack Daniels” which, of course, is what Munson meant. But I recall him saying “John,” and I will always believe that’s what he said. When it came to the whiskey of the South, Larry Munson was not about to use the informal. John Daniels has earned his respect.

There were people who didn’t like Munson, of course, but it seems most people did, even those who despised Georgia or biased announcers. The bias wasn’t the point. He just made it fun. He was over-the-top. He was literary and wacky and unpredictable. He was both intensely cynical (“We have no chance today,” was pretty much how he approached every game) and starry eyed. He brought the same energy and wonderment and ferocity to every game. When the Bulldogs were losing, he was sure they would lose. When they were winning, he was warning about disasters lingering just around the corner (Hunker down!). And when Georgia actually won cherokee roses bloomed, Ray Charles sang, moonlight slipped through the pines.

I mentioned above that there were two reasons that it was a thrill to be on at halftime of a Georgia game with Larry Munson. The first is how much I liked him and enjoyed listening to him call games. I always felt better after hearing him do a game, win or lose, because it has always made me feel better to be around people who care and lot and don’t mind if everyone knows it. I was able to tell him that.

But the second reason happened during the interview. I sat down and put on the headphone, he said a couple of nice things, I said more nice things, and we were on. And he said my last name perfectly. It really isn’t that hard a last name, but that does not keep people from messing it up all the time. They miss the first “S” or they turn the “nan” in the middle into “noh” or they add an R or L sound for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

But Munson said it perfectly. I don’t remember the interview, but I remember that, and when it ended he said it perfectly again. I thanked him, told him again how much I loved listening to him, and said: “And by the way, thank you for getting my name right.”

Larry Munson smiled hard and said, “I practiced it a few times before you got in here.”

So if you get a chance, raise a glass of whatever you’re drinking to Larry Munson, the voice of Georgia football, who died Sunday at the age of 89. Larry, may you find an heaven of unbreakable chairs, trimmed hedges and sugar falling from the sky.

15 Responses to Larry Munson

  1. First? Good to hear from you Joe. Now I have to keep running, though my head is cut off.

  2. NMark W says:

    I have no John Daniels in the LC at the moment. How ’bout some “Southern Comfort” on this rather chilly night? RIP, Mr. Munson, there are so few of the real pros like yourself who truly “get it.”

    Hunker Down, y’all!

    I need to get me a Bulldawg.

  3. joKa says:

    My friend Matt got Larry Munson to wish his dad a happy birthday. Great that he would do it at all, but man he did an awesome job.

    Here it is:

  4. Robert says:

    Just beautiful, Joe. Thank you.

  5. Don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but a friend and I were just recently talking about how you have to be the best in the world right now at writing obituaries(he also said you were probably the best sports writer and I countered that you could probably drop the “sports” from that designation.) Glad you came out to write this, but what’ll it take to get a little piece about Verlander the MVP?

  6. Dinky says:

    One typo, at the end: “whatever your drinking” s/b “you’re”.

    For somebody who never heard Munson, you painted a vivid picture. Thank you.

  7. Matthew says:

    Absence (from Joe’s writing) makes the heart grow fonder.

  8. Clashfan says:

    Dinky, please leave off the grammar comments. They are not the point here.

    Joe, my grandfather loved college football. We’re in the Northwest, so Georgia and Larry Munson didn’t enter into it much. But the passion and joy carry over, even into the Pac-10 (-8? -12?). Granddad died Saturday at 97. Thank you.

  9. jason says:

    From a Georgia Bulldog – thanks, Joe, for a wonderful tribute to Munson. He was truly one of a kind; and I still can’t think of football without hearing his gravely voice.

    I was fortunate to meet Larry a few times over the years. The first time occurred when I filled in for a friend at a game, checking passes at the Press Box door. It was Homecoming, late October, and rather cool outside (low 50’s). I was wearing the short sleeved short provided by UGA for employees, when Larry came through the door, looked at me, and spouted, “Son. You need a jacket.” I think I stuttered a ‘yes, sir’ or something. He continued, “It’s Twelve Degrees out there with that wind whipping through here…” and walked away as I promised to find a coat.

    Of course, it was 50 degrees and there was a cool breeze. But if Larry said it was 12 and bitterly cold, I wouldn’t argue with him. After all, we had a huge game that day against Vandy, and their Offensive line must average 500 pounds!

    RIP, Larry.
    Or, as we say in Athens when a mascot or someone extremely special leaves us:
    “Damn Good Dawg!”

  10. Michael says:

    This beautiful piece is a reminder of what announcers can and often do mean to us, from Larry Munson in college football to the voices of my youth, Vin Scully with the Dodgers and Chick Hearn with the Lakers, and so many others who brought so much vividly to life–just as this piece brings Munson vividly back to life.

    By the way, I will guarantee you Munson grew up on Bill Munday, the first southerner to do play-by-play at the network level, for NBC in the late 1920s and 1930s until John Daniels and Jack Daniels brought him low for many years. He named the end zone “the promised land” and the huddle was “the crap-shooters’ formation.”

  11. peacockc says:

    Munson’s hard to explain to some people, but your recollections connected like Appleby to Washington and dreaming of Montreal. After moving to California, listening to Munson was difficult, tough. But XM Radio and a set of baby monitors enabled me to listen while doing yard work with my kindergartener helper. Now a few years older, he begged to delay bedtime so he could watch Munson tributes on YouTube. Didn’t realize Larry had so many “My God’s”. Thanks for reminding us what a treasure we had in Munson.

  12. NorCalVol says:

    I was living in Oklahoma in 1980. I vividly remember sitting in my car listening to WSB out of Atlanta (back then, car radios were great because you could drive around until you found that reception spot). It was Georgia at Tennessee, Herschel Walker’s first game. As a native Tennesseean and graduate of UT, I initially hated having to listen to my Vols with the UGA broadcaster. But as the game wore on, I grew to appreciate what I was hearing. The game was intense and hard fought. My mental images were vivid because of Munson’s description. Even the moment when Walker ran over Bill Bates was exciting, simply because of Munson’s call. That’s something coming from a die-hard Volunteer.
    Thanks, Joe, for this article. I wish there were Munson’s in today’s world.

  13. Clashfan, I’m not a fab of grammar edits in blog comments either, but your/you’re is one if those grammar epidemics that validates readers’ misconceptions every time it goes unedited in print. I’m glad dinky pointed it out. And for the record, Jack Daniel’s whiskey was named for Jack Daniel.

    I also agree that Joe’s work is even more moving when it comes less frequently.

  14. Craig says:

    Badly miss Joe’s non-personal stories. I mean, this is lovely and all, but I’m jonesing for some pure sports stuff like whether Aaron Rodgers is as good as his stats or Ryan Braun over Matt Kemp.

    All the best, Joe…

  15. I’d never heard of Larry Munson before this, but thanks to your piece, Joe, I’ll drink a glass of good Scotch for the guy. Do what you do with the whole Penn State thing, and keep writing, please.

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