by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Part of the spectacle of college football lies within its accompanying soundtracks. And in SEC Country, those sounds include the legendary voices that describe the action. From John Forney to John Ward, from Jack Cristil to Cawood Ledford, from JC Politz to John Ferguson, from Jim Fyffe to Paul Eells, from Jim Hawthorne to Eli Gold, from Joe Fisher to David Kellum, from Mick Hubert to Charlie McAlexander, from Rod Bramblett to Todd Ellis, generations of SEC fans have had countless storytellers of their own to describe the action, play-by-play men who became as identifiable with their teams and schools as the coaches and players themselves.

Of all of these legendary  "Voices of the SEC," however, none might have been as beloved, or as entertaining, as the legendary Larry Munson, who for nearly 60 years described the action in an inimitable manner that had to be heard to be appreciated, or believed. From 1952-65, Munson was Nashville-based and the voice of Vanderbilt before moving to Atlanta for what would be a short stint as a play-by-play man with the MLB Braves after their relocation from Milwaukee. While in Atlanta, Munson also picked up the Georgia gig in 1966, beginning a 42-year run as one of the most famous voices in college football.

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Neither Munson’s voice nor play-by-play skills were appreciably better than most of his contemporaries, but it was the manner in which his gravelly tones delivered his descriptions, and the emotional ups-and-downs within, and the varying inflections and tones consistent with hope and despair, often within the same sentence, that made Munson-listening a ritual for Bulldog fans who would cling to his every word.

Munson, however, definitely had his own unique style, augmented by his wonderful story-telling ability and self-deprecating wit. And he was indeed an artist: Munson didn’t just describe games, he narrated them. Which is why he became so revered at Georgia by the Bulldog fan base that would sit enraptured by a Munson broadcast...many of which would become unforgettable.

After all, football announcers don't just endear themselves to an audience overnight. It takes years of shared disappointment, ecstasy and frustration. It's an attachment that builds over time. You have to have a history. And no one had more of it than Munson with the Georgia fan base.

Buck Belue, the UGa QB in the early ‘80s and future broadcaster and sports talk host in Atlanta, might have summed up Munson best in this quote that appeared as a testimonial for Tony Barnhart’s biography of Munson, From Herschel to Hobnail Boot, published in 2013. “From the time I was a little boy growing up in Valdosta, he (Munson) was larger than life,” said Belue. “Even when Georgia was on TV, I would listen to him on the radio. He was the voice of our team.”

For Munson, every football game was an epic story, full of hyperbole, melodrama, foreshadowing and overemphasized despair. Georgia Tech's biggest lineman was "100 feet tall." Good punts were "howitzers." Florida's quarterback could throw the ball "a million miles," and Tennessee's defense would "knock the whatchamacallit out of you." Georgia's players were never just tackled, they were "swarmed by a sea of orange shirts."

More than anything, it was good fun to listen to Munson describe the battle. A Georgia game without Munson’s call was music without the lyrics. And when another announcer would attempt to describe the Bulldogs in action on TV, it was never the same as tuning into Munson, who wore his heart on his sleeve for every call, every description, hoping for the best for his beloved Dawgs. Which is why we at TGS, having listened to games for over six decades, would probably rather re-live a moment of a classic Munson call than any other.

Of course, before the college sports TV revolution of the early ‘80s ushered in by the creation of the CFA, which effectively ended the monopoly that ABC had long held in televising college football, and the games would flood TV, the soundtracks of the game were almost always provided by the radio play-by-play announcers. For night games in particular, several clear-channel outlets through the South would boom the voices of the SEC across not only the region, but to other regions as well. Listening to JC Politz describe LSU home action at night became a ritual not only in Louisiana, but as far away as Minneapolis, St. Louis, Denver, and even Boston, because the games were aired on the blowtorch signals of both WWL in New Orleans and KWKH in Shreveport, which helped make Politz a national celebrity for a while after his memorable description of Billy Cannon’s dramatic game-winning, 89-yard, 4th Q punt-return TD on Halloween night 1959 that pushed the Tigers past Ole Miss in the showdown game of the year, 7-3. The call by Politz was even a hot-seller in subsequent weeks as a 45 RPM to be played on the phonographs of the day.

Munson, too, had the benefit of a clear-channel outlet, WSB 750 in Atlanta, to carry his calls of Georgia football far and wide, especially if the Dawgs would play at night, when the signal would boom after sundown. Sure, Munson was an unabashed “homer” in his descriptions, but that’s what made it so fun to listen to a Munson broadcast. Moreso even than Harry Caray, Munson made it seem like a blast to be a "homer" on the air.  Even fans of Georgia's foes would be entertained by a Munson call.

Munson’s life tale was an extraordinary one and best outlined in detail by the Barnhart book. A ragtime pianist during his teen years in Minnesota, good enough to be invited to play with Tommy Dorsey’s band and behind a young singer named Frank Sinatra, Munson served in the Army during World War II but because of an inability to smell was limited to domestic service in a military hospital. Upon his discharge, and heeding an ad from a broadcasting school to fill the sudden need for post-war radio announcers, Larry was soon headed to North Dakota for his first real gig. Not long after, he was off to Wyoming, taken under the wing of the one and only Curt Gowdy, a Cowboy alum who would soon move to Oklahoma City and recommend Munson to replace him as Wyo's play-by-play man in Laramie.  As Gowdy would do again shortly thereafter when on his way to work alongside Mel Allen with the New York Yankees, Munson again taking his place, this time in Ok City.  The Nashville opportunity presented itself in 1952, and would begin Munson’s association with the South, where he would work and live for the remainder of his life.

From  the early '50s thru ‘65, Munson was gainfully employed in Music City as not only the voice of the Commodores, but also the baseball Nashville Vols of the old Southern Association, who played their games at the legendary Sulphur Dell, into the early ‘60s, as well as a popular hunting and fishing show on local TV. Yet remembering that Gowdy had once told him that he wouldn’t be making big money in the broadcast booth until he got an MLB gig, Munson jumped at the chance to work with the Braves when they moved to Atlanta in ‘66. So, Munson left Nashville for a chance at the big time with the Braves, though for a while would continue to commute back to Music City for his outdoors show. Along the way, for a short time Munson even became the voice of the Atlanta Chiefs, an ill-fated NPSL franchise when the pro soccer boom hit the states in 1967. (For a while later in his career, Munson would also work four seasons as the NFL Falcons’ play-by-play man.)

Fortuitously for Munson, he also picked up the Georgia Bulldogs gig while at spring training with the Braves in ‘66. Fortuitous because the ride with the Braves was bumpy, and broadcast partner Milo Hamilton hardly welcoming to Munson when on-air. The headstong Hamilton would win that war and Munson would vacate his Braves gig after 1967, but still had Georgia, for which he would eventually become identified for a couple of generations of fans.

For the next 40 years, Munson’s inimitable style created word memories to last Georgia fans a lifetime. Fortunately, thanks to YouTube and other online outlets, many of Munson’s calls can still come to life. Among his most memorable descriptions were the following.

“Appleby! The end around! Just stopped, planted his feet and threw it! And Washington caught it. Thinking of Montreal and the Olympics, and ran out of his shoes down the middle - 80 yards! Gator Bowl! Rocking! Stunned! The girders are bending now! Look at the score!" --calling Bulldog tight end Richard Appleby’s 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Gene Washington against Florida in 1975.

"We hand it off to Herschel (Walker), there's a hole....5....10...12, he's running over people! Oh, you Herschel Walker!...My God Almighty, he ran right through two men! Herschel ran right over two men! They had him dead away inside the 9. Herschel Walker went 16 yards. He drove right over those orange shirts and is just driving and running with those big thighs. My God, a freshman!" --calling Herschel Walker's first touchdown run against the Tennessee Volunteers in 1980.

"Florida in a stand-up five, they may or may not blitz, they won't. Buck (Belue) back. Third down on the 8. In trouble. Got a block behind him. Going to throw on the run. Complete...to the 25, to the 30. Lindsay Scott 35, 40. Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40. RUN LINDSAY! Twenty-five, 20, 15, 10, 5. LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT! ... Well, I can't believe it. 92 yards and Lindsay really got in a footrace, I broke my chair, I came right through a chair, a metal STEEL chair with about a five inch cushion ... Do you know what is gonna happen here tonight? And up at St. Simons and Jekyll Island and all those places where all those Dawg people have got those condominiums for four days? MAN, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight! 26 to 21, Dawgs on top! We were gone. I gave up, you did too. We were out of it and gone. Miracle!" --calling wide receiver Lindsay Scott's 92-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Buck Belue in the final two minutes against Florida in 1980, which was the closest call in what would become an undefeated, national title season for Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs.

"So we'll try to kick one a hundred thousand miles. We're holding it on our own 49-and-a-half ... gonna try to kick it sixty yards plus a foot-and-a-half ... and Butler kicked a long one ... a long one ... Oh my God! Oh my God! ... The stadium is worse than bonkers! Eleven seconds, I can't believe what he did! This is ungodly!" --calling Kevin Butler's field goal in the final seconds to beat Clemson in 1984.

"Our hearts they was torn out and bleeding, we picked it up and we stuck it back inside. I can't believe this. We won 27-24, and at the end we had no business winning this game." --calling the last minute UGA win over Ga Tech in 1997.

“Touchdown! My God, a touchdown! We threw it to Haynes! We just stuffed them with five seconds left! My God Almighty, did you see what he did? 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!” --calling Bulldog quarterback David Greene’s game-winning touchdown pass to Verron Haynes against Tennessee in 2001. (Munson would later say that he was probably thinking about a “jackboot” when he blurted the now infamous “hobnail boot” instead. In the Barnhart book, Munson described the “hobnail boot” origin. “I didn’t know what it was until the next day Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called me,” said Munson. “He said that hob-nailed boots had been used forever in the lumber industry up in North Carolina, where he is from. All I know is that was an incredible drive because we were gone in that game. We were done. I never thought there would be another call like the one in Jacksonville in 1980. But over time, this became my favorite.”)

"Man, we've had some shots, haven't we? Snap to David Greene, there he goes again in the corner and we jump up....Touchdown! Oh, God, a touchdown! In the corner with 85 seconds..." --calling David Greene's touchdown pass to Michael Johnson as Georgia defeated Auburn in 2002, clinching the Bulldogs' first SEC East Division championship.

Munson was already legendary by 1982, when the Bulldogs, two years removed from a national title, were in the hunt for another as the season wound deep into November. But Munson would ascend to the pantheon of his profession in a crucial battle vs. Auburn that not only kept alive the Dawgs’ national title aspirations, but cemented Munson as a Georgia icon forever more.

Any list of all-time great Munson calls includes several from one drive alone in that Auburn game, more specifically the final drive as the Tigers, with star freshman RB Bo Jackson, marched downfield in the final minutes in hopes of derailing the Georgia national title hopes. That entire drive serves as a symphony of any “Best of Munson” calls.

A bit more background is called for regarding that particular ‘82 Georgia-Auburn classic, which warranted its own chapter in recent a book devoted solely to that historic rivalry, Auburn vs. Georgia, The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, by Douglas Stutsman, published this past June.

As mentioned, Georgia was unbeaten and atop the polls as it entered Jordan-Hare Stadium that November 13. The Bulldogs were off of back-to-back SEC titles and had won the national crown two years previous in 1980, and to that point had lost just twice (early in ‘81 to eventual national champ Clemson, and in the Sugar Bowl at the end of that season on a last-minute score by Pitt and Dan Marino) in the era of Herschel Walker, who burst upon the scene like gangbusters in ‘80 and was well on his way to the Heisman in ’82.

Auburn, however, had made a recovery in ‘82 under second-year HC Pat Dye, whose Tigers were forging quite a turnaround just two years after Doug Barfield’s last edition in 1980 didn’t win an SEC game. But fueled by the remarkable Jackson, who would win a Heisman of his own three years later, Dye’s team would enter the Georgia game at 7-2 and with a shot at Auburn’s first SEC crown since 1957 with wins over the Dawgs and Alabama. No matter the Tiger resurgence, UGa would enter Jordan-Hare as 6 ½-point favorites.

Anticipation for the old rivalry, however, had been building the entire week leading up to the game, as Auburn backers sensed an upset and the chance to deal Georgia its first SEC loss since 1979 when, you guessed it, Barfield’s Auburn had scored a 33-13 mild upset win at Athens. On the Wednesday before kickoff, Athens Banner-Herald sports editor Blake Giles wrote a column warning Bulldog fans what stood ahead of them. “If you thought defending the Mississippi State wishbone was tough, wait until you get a look at the Auburn wishbone. Stopping halfback Lionel James is like trying to catch a butterfly with a bottle cap. Stopping (FB) Ron O’Neal is like trying to derail a train with a toothpick. Stopping Bo Jackson is like trying to abort a missile launching with a tennis racket. Stopping (QB) Randy Campbell is like trying to break the access code for the computer at the Chase Manhattan Bank with a hand-held calculator.”

The hyperbole of Giles aside, what awaited Georgia was nonetheless what HC Vince Dooley would say was “the hardest game I could ever remember.” Before the game, on the door of the Auburn locker room were various words of encouragement, including a simple, but direct, “Kill Herschel” sticker. The Tigers were going to be ready for what they believed would be the defining moment of their resurrection.

The battle at Jordan-Hare brought out the finest in Walker, who would rush for 177 yards and a pair of TDs while passing the 5000-yard rushing barrier for his carrier. Herschel’s 47-yard burst in the 2nd Q had staked the Dawgs to a 10-7 lead. Grimly, however, Auburn stuck around like flypaper, and finally landed a mighty blow when down only 13-7 early in the 4th Q. From their own 13, QB Campbell would pitch back to “Little Train” Lionel James, who found a slight hole, then shifted, darted, and accelerated as he hit the clear. Eighty-seven yards later, James was in the Bulldog end zone, and after the PAT it was Auburn staked to a 14-13 lead. Jordan-Hare shook to its foundations!

Georgia, however, was used to playing from behind, having rallied to win six times in its 9-0 start to the season, and commenced a grueling 80-yard drive, converting four times in third down situations, the last of those a Walker score from the Auburn 3 almost midway thru the final period. Dawg QB John Lastinger, who only completed four passes on the day, saved one of those completions for a crucial 3rd-and-6 from the Auburn 39 when passing 17 yards to frosh WR Herman Archie for a first down. So, after Walker's eventual score, and with 8:32 to play, Georgia had clawed back to a 19-14 lead.

Meanwhile, Munson, already excited when describing the go-ahead TD, would clear his throat one more time for perhaps the most unforgettable sequence of descriptive calls in college football play-by-play history. But in a departure from traditional acknowledged script in these sorts of memorable broadcast situations, when an announcer might be describing his (or her) team on the attack, it was Auburn with the ball, mounting a serious late-minute drive, and with the freshman Jackson threatening a couple of breakaway runs, advancing deep into Georgia territory. Munson, however, was just getting warmed up, as he put the upcoming final sequence of plays into context, living and dying emotionally with every play.

“The Sugar Bowl, the championship, swinging and I mean swinging on a little thread here. Every single play means something now or you’re gone. Total war in Auburn! Complete, total war!!

“4:17. Auburn just content to complete the long drive and use up the clock so Georgia won’t have enough time to save themselves... Third down, big play! Third down, BIG PLAY! Campbell going to pitch to Lionel (James). He got a block! And he got a first down I think on the 14!... A championship hanging with 3:07!... First down by four-and-a-half inches!... Auburn is 14 yards away from upsetting the Dawgs and knocking us out of everything...

“2:55 to go! Georgia leading 19-14! Needing a play of some kind! A break of some kind!”

Auburn is then called for a motion penalty, costing it five yards. Back to Munson...

“First -and-15 back at the 19. HUNKER DOWN, YOU GUYS!... They are in a 6-4, and they pitch to Bo Jackson...one man knocks him OFF BALANCE and (Tony) Flack came up and GOT HIM! (Dale) Carver spun him three to four yards behind the line, he stumbled off, and little Flack came up and hit him!...

“Ball back on the 21, and it’s second down now and 17...with 2:05 to go. Auburn trying to break our hearts here, 19-14, and the Dawgs lead. Again, you guys, HUNKER DOWN!

“Auburn up to the line, Edwards to the right, the Little Train to the right...one man split left and man in a slot to the right...Randy Campbell... with a man blitzing...CARVER GOT HIM FROM BEHIND BACK ON THE 30!

“Oh, man! Two big plays! 84 seconds!... Third down and 21, back on the 30...Watch this now...I hate to keep saying it, but HUNKER DOWN! If you didn’t hear me guys, hunker DOWN!

“Dawgs in a 5, kind of a 5-4... one wideout to the left...a man in motion, Little Train going to the right... and Randy Campbell, they... blitz him! He dumps it over the middle and it’s COMPLETE TO EDWARDS at the 25 but he STUMBLED DOWN at the 20!...Great one-armed catch off-balance at the 25 but he stumbled down at the 20! Time out Auburn...time out, 49 seconds!

“Fourth and 17...I know I’m asking a lot you guys but HUNKER IT DOWN ONE MORE TIME! Auburn up to the line on the 21, man split left, two men wide right, and a man in the slot to the right...Dawgs are in a 4...and Campbell, as they BLITZ ON HIM...he threw a high, wobbly pass...they fight in the end zone...and the Dawgs BROKE IT UP...THEY BROKE IT UP! Ronnie Harris and Jeff Sanchez got up in the air...and pressured up the middle! They pressured the quarterback, one man in the middle and one from the flank...they pressured him! And they made him throw it!...The Dawgs, with 42 seconds! I won’t ask you...to do that again you guys. Ball on the 21. They pressured him! You see him kind of arch that ball? Somebody flew right up the middle at him!”

The result was now secure, but a breathless Munson was still on a roll, and even on the last kneel-down play delivered yet another memorable moment to his audience.

“32 seconds...Lastinger up to the line...Auburn massing 6 with 3...and Lastinger falls back on the 16 to take a 2-yard loss as they curl over the ball...Georgia students and fans standing and roaring...23, 22, 21...clock running...RUNNING...oh, look at the sugar falling out of the sky! LOOK AT THE SUGAR FALLING OUT OF THE SKY! Here comes a Georgia fan RUNNING out across the field in his red pants! And races over toward the Dawg bench...and now everybody ROARING... 3...2...ONE! And they’re carrying Vince Dooley off the field! Dawgs have WON IT! Somebody threw something on us...Dawgs have won it! 19 to 14!

“This defense, they hunkered, they did hunker! McIntyre down here on one knee looking up at the booth...all by himself...everybody else mobbed in the middle. We saved ourselves. WE SAVED OURSELVES! There won’t be many of us in Opelika tonight, but I’ll tell you one thing, we’re gonna’ do something to Opelika!”

Munson later described how the Auburn fan, dressed in orange and blue, in the private box next to the broadcast booth, threw his drink Munson’s way as the game ended. “He was dressed in orange and blue, big cowboy hat, big man, about 280, he could hear me hollering, and he had this bourbon and coke in a big glass and he just leaned his arm around and just threw it right at my face!,” said Munson. “It had to go about 8 feet, but it got my spotter Dick Payne a little bit, and it got me, and it got our broadcast boards pretty good. Well the other spotter, Louis Phillips, he just jumped up to fight and ran out the door and tracked him outside, and then tried to attack the guy! So there was a little bit of stuff goin’ on out there, but I wasn’t aware of that, all I knew was that I had bourbon and coke on me.”

For Georgia, the win secured yet another Sugar Bowl, the Dawgs’ third straight visit, and a showdown vs. Penn State in New Orleans would decide the national title. Alas, the Bulldogs would fall short, 27-23. But the enduring memory of most Georgia fans from the ‘82 season would be Munson and his storied description of the end of the Auburn game, a broadcasting performance that still resonates almost 35 years later.

Munson would continue calling games for another 26 years, into early in the 2008 season, when his failing health forced him to retire three games into the campaign. The previous year, Munson had worked a schedule of home games only, and I got to hear one of those, a late-season win over none other than Auburn as I drove after watching a Kentucky-Vanderbilt game in Nashville. Though nearing the end of his run, Munson was still full-throated and entertaining as ever, but by the next season the voice had started to weaken, and Munson decided to hang em ‘up the week before the Alabama game.

Munson’s retirement became as big a storyline as anything in the SEC that week, and the Dawgs even looked a bit disheartened as they lost at home to the Crimson Tide. Munson was also comfy passing the baton in the booth to Scott Howard, who had been working play-by-play for the road games as he patiently waited in the wings as the full-time successor to Munson, who turned 86 the week he finally hung ‘em up. But only “Munce” himself could give the word when it was time to go.

Munson only had a few years to enjoy his retirement, but not before he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in May 2009. Indeed, Munson squeezed every ounce he could out of his decorated career, which included several more awards beyond the National Sportscasters HOF honor. When Munson passed away in November of 2011, he was given the equivalent of a head of state memorial service in Athens, held at Sanford Stadium. Which seemed appropriate, for that is where Munson made so many of his memories.

For us, we can say with some certainty that they don’t make them like Larry Munson anymore. But for the last word, we’ll leave it up to Tony Barnhart, who in authoring the definitive book on Munson’s career, also probably summed up best the Bulldog fans’ perspective of their legendary broadcaster. “This is a universal truth that Georgia fans everywhere will confirm,” said Barnhart. “The experience of a big Georgia victory was not complete until you heard what Larry said about it.”

And even though Munson is no longer around, it probably doesn’t take much for Bulldog fans to close their eyes and imagine what Munson might say after each and every UGa win. Never mind the losses!

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