Times executive editor Mitch Clarke remembers Munson as "one of us"
By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA — When Larry Munson first arrived at Georgia in 1966, he showed no signs of the trait that would make him as beloved as the coaches and players he described for millions of radio listeners.
Sure, he had that gravelly voice.
But, no, he didn’t wear his red-and-black heart on his sleeve. It took time to develop that love for the Bulldogs, to grow so passionate about the team that he was, without a doubt, more than just their voice.
He was their biggest fan.
“Larry wasn’t like that when he came here,” longtime Georgia coach Vince Dooley said Monday. “He was good, very good,
professionally. But he didn’t have that uniqueness right away. That developed over a period of time as he came to know and love the Georgia program and Georgia football and the Georgia people.
“Then,” Dooley added with a chuckle, “he became a homer.”
Munson, who was Georgia’s radio play-by-play announcer for nearly 43 years, died Sunday night at his home in Athens of complications from pneumonia. He was 89.
Known for his distinctive calls such as “Run, Lindsay, run!” and blatant partisanship, Munson arrived at Georgia in 1966 and stayed through the first two games of the 2008 season.
Then, with his health failing, he suddenly retired.
Munson will live on through the numerous video and audio collections documenting his most famous calls, highlighted by his screaming, pleading exhortation to Lindsay Scott on a 93-yard touchdown reception that pulled out an improbable victory over Florida in 1980, keeping Georgia on track for a national championship.
There were plenty of others, from “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!” when Georgia clinched a Sugar Bowl berth with a win over Auburn in 1982 to “We just stepped on their face with a hobnailed boot and broke their nose!” after the Bulldogs pulled out a last-second win at Tennessee in 2001.
“He just did it the way you’re supposed to do it,” said Wes Durham, the voice of rival Georgia Tech and a friend of Munson’s. “The legacy he left when he went off the air in 2008 was immense, and now that he’s passed away his legacy probably gets a little bigger than that because he was the voice of a generation.”
Indeed he was — carving out his own distinctive style even in an era when it was OK to root openly on the air for the school that was paying you. To Munson, Georgia was “we.” The opposing team was “they.”
“The last thing you would be told is to do it the way Munson did it,” Durham said. “The ‘we, us, our, they got a guy, we got a guy,’ no, it doesn’t work like that anymore. But one of the best things you can say is he gave you great theater of the mind, and then when you got to see the play and hear the call, it became even better because you realized it was just sheer raw emotion.”
As his affection for the Bulldogs grew, and came out more and more on the broadcasts, so did his popularity with Georgia fans. Many would don headphones even while attending games at Sanford Stadium just so they could listen to Munson’s call. For those watching at home, it was customary to turn down the sound on television so his voice would be the one describing the action for the viewer.
“He really turned out to be a folk hero to the Georgia people,” Dooley said. “Regardless of your status throughout the state, from the smallest little community to having a 50-yard-line seat and pulling for Georgia, you were listening to Larry.”
Munson also took poor-mouthing to new levels. He could build up the other team better than any coach. He could talk down Georgia’s chances, even against an overmatched opponent, until the most ardent booster figured the Bulldogs had no chance to win the game.
Of course, they won most of them. But Dooley grew so weary of Munson’s pessimism that he was relieved he didn’t have to listen to him on game days.
“He would come over with that big ol’ cigar downwind, blowing smoke in my face and saying, ‘We just don’t have enough speed on the corners to stop their wide receivers,’” Dooley recalled, pulling off a pretty good Munson impression, as so many Georgia fans became adept at doing.
“I would be like, ‘Get away from me, please!’ I’m glad I didn’t have to listen to him when I was coaching. Good gracious. I was feeling pretty good until I chatted with him.”
Munson’s death came one day after No. 13 Georgia, riding a nine-game winning streak, clinched a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time since 2005.
Before that, the Bulldogs have a big game Saturday: the traditional regular-season finale against No. 25 Georgia Tech. Preparations went on as usual, but coach Mark Richt paused to remember Munson’s immense contributions to the Georgia program.
“Meeting Larry when I first arrived at Georgia and getting to know him over the next few years was an honor and privilege for me,” Richt said. “I know he loved Georgia and Georgia football, and the Bulldog nation loved Larry. It was a special honor for me personally when Larry had such a signature and memorable call during my first season with the ‘hobnail boot.’”
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity called Munson a “once-in-a-lifetime treasure.”
“Larry poured his heart and soul into Georgia football,” McGarity said in a statement. “His passion, energy, and love for our Bulldogs were clearly evident at all times — especially on Saturdays during the fall. For those of us who were able to hear Larry paint the picture with his live play-by-play calls, we are very fortunate.”
Gov. Nathan Deal weighed in on Munson’s life, saying his voice “provided the gravelly, dramatic soundtrack” to Georgia football.
“Munson gave listeners so much more than a retelling of the events playing out on the field,” Deal said. “He connected with fans through a shared passion for the University of Georgia. His words captured the emotional highs and lows of his fellow Bulldog fans.”
A memorial service for Munson will be held sometime after the Dec. 3 SEC championship game, the school announced. In the meantime, fans set up impromptu memorials at famous landmarks around Athens, putting out candles, flowers — even a container of sugar.
Munson’s family asked that donations be made to a fund that awards an annual scholarship to a Georgia cheerleader, an appropriate way to honor the school’s greatest cheerleader.
“He was one of a kind,” Dooley said. “There will never be another one quite like him.”