Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Today, the microphone is silent. Sunday evening, the University of Georgia lost the longtime voice of the Georgia Bulldogs and its biggest fan, Larry Munson.
Larry – a man few us were fortunate to know in person but all were on a first name basis with – joined the Bulldog nation three seasons before I did, in 1966. Thus, he was in my house before I was via the radio. His visits were treated with a form of reverence and respect, and he was very much a member of the family.
He was easily one of us and relatable to all. In an era that placed value on the slick and superficial, he was anything but. Larry was a true fan, and did nothing to hide it. He lived and died on the outcome of every play. When things did not go so well, we felt his pain and he felt ours. But when things did go well, Larry was a poet.
“Oh, look at the sugar falling out of the sky! Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!”
That, of course, was a Munson quote from the end of the Hershel Walker era, when Georgia still approached most games as an underdog, but had the swagger that a three consecutive SEC champion team would have.
Years later, after decades of more mediocre performances, Munson let loose what is perhaps my personal favorite if only for the sheer release of pent up frustration.
“…David Greene just straightened up and we snuck the fullback over! We just stepped on their face with a Hobnailed Boot and Broke their nose! We Just CRUSHED Their FACE!…”
Georgia fans were able to experience the games through Larry’s eyes and our ears for over four decades. Younger generations accustomed to cable TV packages with sports multi-views and college games from Thursday to Saturday nights with almost every game televised may not appreciate the value of a radio announcer from a three network era of television. For those of us who claim middle age or are older, Munson was the only way many games could be “seen”. And his imagery was vivid. Who else would punctuate the value of a big play with the revelation that he had broken his chair celebrating?
For a few hours on fall Saturdays, Munson brought people of uncommon background together. Rich and poor, black and white, old and young. All were able to put differences aside and just be fans.
Through Larry’s words, the 92,000 of your closest friends gathered in Sanford Stadium were multiplied by the many thousands more that be brought into the stadium through the Bulldog radio network. In a region of the country where college football is a way of life, he was the pied piper to those who wear red and black.
And while an unapologetic cheerleader to the faithful, his pessimism was equally as legendary as his celebrations. It didn’t matter if we were playing a Bear Bryant coached Alabama team or lower division team that had been brought in for an extra home win, Munson could find something to worry about. In his worry and fretting, he in a small way kept a fan base humble in a realm where trash talking and braggadocio are more common.
Munson not only served the state for over 40 years, but served his country as well. Prior to coming south, this one of the greatest southerners (who was actually born in Minnesota) was also one of the Greatest Generation. It was his discharge money paid after his World War Two service that Munson used to pay for broadcast journalism training. The return on that investment has paid handsome dividends for so many of us that only had to contribute a few hours on a scratchy AM radio signal.
There are few true originals that we have the pleasure to experience in our lifetimes. Lewis Grizzard was no doubt standing in line to welcome Munson upon his arrival last evening. Both men used their craft to transcend their genre and become part of the fabric of what it meant to be a Georgian during the days of my youth. Grizzard left us too young, while Munson made the most of his 89 years, continuing behind the microphone until physically unable.
It is bittersweet that UGA, less than 24 hours before his passing, clinched the SEC East title and the right to play for a spot in the Sugar Bowl. UGA’s celebration was good. Larry’s now will be great. As good as the view was from the press box for all his years, he’ll have the best seats in the house now, and forever.
Well done Larry. We’ll miss you.