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.