Five Seasons Later and I Still Miss Larry Munson: Tears, Dreams, Prayers, Steel Chairs and a Tribute
It is an odd thing to lose someone you cared very deeply about but had never actually met.
That’s the way I felt when Larry died.
I remember standing next to my wife on a cold and rainy afternoon in Sanford Stadium as the golf cart carrying Larry Munson weaved out onto the field. I remember openly weeping around people I had never met before when Larry raised his cap towards one of the longest standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed. My wife didn’t ask why I was crying even though she didn’t exactly understand why a senior in college would cry for a retired radio announcer, especially when we were about to get beat by Tech at the time.
But I cried anyway, for so many reasons. I can try to tell you all of them, but I’m afraid that when I put them on paper they’ll only look small and vain and crazy. But then again, that feels like a very human thing to fear.
It’s been five seasons now, and God I miss Larry Munson.
Let me tell you why.
Get the Picture
A long time ago there was this new thing called satellite TV. I lived in a town called McRae, Georgia. My granddad was the mayor at the time. My grandmother is now the mayor. It’s a pretty fun place.
Anyway, the only thing we had ever know was cable TV broadcast in standard definition onto those 10” TV’s where you had to punch in the channel number on a console. So it was like discovering the New World when I went over to hang at my cousin’s house one day to find what I assumed could only be a stolen CIA satellite stashed in their yard. It looked like the opening sequence of the X-files. It took up at least half of the already formidably sized yard. I mean, it was ginormous.
“This thing broadcasts, TV?!” my little brain said. “AND it gets more channels?!!”
I couldn’t even contain myself. So obviously I went on to badger my mom and dad about it for a long, long time. Finally they surprised my sister and me on some holiday that I can’t even remember with an in-home scavenger hunt at the end of which they revealed they had purchased a subscription to PrimeStar.
I don’t even know what company ate PrimeStar in the end, but I have very fond memories of that first dish. There was only one problem….
You see, one of the essential, longstanding traditions of Bulldog fans across the state of Georgia was to mute whoever the hell was calling the games on the television and to turn on Larry’s call on the radio instead. This may amaze you but there was a time—I can’t even fathom how this worked—where the call on the radio lined up perfectly with the television broadcast.
I’m serious. Once upon a time, Larry’s call would fall in step by step with the images on the screen.
And yet, on one fatal day when we finally managed to find the UGA game on PrimeStar we discovered that this holy symmetry, which had graced our Saturdays for as many years as I can remember, was suddenly disrupted.
Larry’s voice was ahead of the game. And by at least a play.
For any other set of fans this would make the game absolutely unwatchable. They would simply turn the radio off and enjoy the game on Television.
But for Georgia fans this meant one of two things:
1.) You keep your TV and Radio on, accepting the notion proffered by the late great Adult Swim program Squidbillies: Larry Munson is, in fact, God. Hence, being ahead of the game isn’t surprising because he knows the future.
2.) You turn off the TV and watch the game.
Yes, you read that right. You turn off the TV so you can watch the game.
You see, that was a feat Larry somehow attained that I have yet to see duplicated by any other announcer: he somehow crammed the tension inherent in visually experiencing a college football game into words.
Now, you might say that there are so many play-by-play guys out there that still do this. They give you the colors, the noise, the formations, and anything else your eyeballs could take in while sitting in the stands.
What you’d be missing if you made that argument, though, is that Larry did more than just give us a visual. He gave us the absurdity and the terror and the euphoria of the game without fading into just another guy screaming into a microphone. In my mind, that ability to capture what it is like to really live and die for a team is what made Larry so unique and so significant for the rest of the College Football world.
Case and point: the Lindsey Scott call.
The Lindsey Scott call is considered by a majority of Georgia fans to be Munson’s greatest call (even though they butcher it by referencing it as “Run Lindsay Run” when, in fact, Munson only said “Run Lindsay” and left out the third “run” you’ve stopped listening sorry).
They’ll talk about the way Munson’s voice slowly tenses, they’ll talk about the way he begs Lindsay to run just when the Florida defenders might be about to catch him on the 40, and the way he is so blown away by what just happened at the end of the run that he can’t do anything save yell Lindsay’s name three times.
The best part of the call, however, is not the call of the action itself. If that were all Larry had said it might still be a famous call, and Lindsay Scott would probably still not be able to make it from the bathroom to the couch without a UGA fan popping out of a bush and yelling “RUN LINDSAY!” but the call would not be his best work.
The Lindsay Scott call is Munson’s best because of what he says after the run. Take a listen while readings the notes below.
(01:34) The funny thing about this version of the call is that it edits out about half of the prolonged silence from Larry after Scott scored. Larry Munson disappears for about eight solid seconds in the original call. Larry wasn’t backing off to let you into the experience of the stadium in that climactic moment. He and his spotter had both jumped up to celebrate and ran out of the booth so they could make some serious noise. In the process of jumping up Larry breaks the small chair he’s sitting in. Whether he ever made it out to celebrate I don’t know.
(01:39) Larry has just gotten back here and gives the best damn wrap up of any wrap up ever. Go back and listen to the way he says “well…” here. I can’t quite get at it, but there is something in that “well” that I think we all understand.
(01: 45) Chair reference. Notice how much more awesome it is to say “a metal STEEL chair with about a five inch cushion” rather than saying “I broke my chair.”
(01:52) Here is what makes Larry Munson my favorite: his use of absurd imagery to convey the fact that something historic has happened. The things is, anyone who has ever been a part of a moment like the Lindsay Scott play or the Blackout game will tell you that absurdity is, in fact, that only way to really get at the sheer, raw emotion of something like that. So when Larry says “the booth came apart” and the “stadium fell down” I think it is probably the most accurate way to describe what has actually happened. He could say, “Scott ran back a pass from Belue for 90 some odd yards.” But he doesn’t. Because that’s not really what happened. What really happened was an earth-shaking cataclysm that the Gator Bowl just couldn’t handle.
(02:05) I didn’t mean to beg Lindsey to run, but I had to.
This is perhaps the most succinct way of describing the psychosis I have felt ravaging my soul for the better part of 27 years. We don’t want to beg these guys to run or to hunker down or to cover the damn kick, but we just have to.
Larry either understood better than most (and, in my case, probably created) the feeling that fandom has somehow become part of who we are, rather than just a thing we enjoy. And this is excruciating, beautiful torture.
We Ain’t Big Enough
Believe it or not, I once convinced my Dad (and myself) that I wanted to play football. I don’t know what either of us were thinking, but it was never going to end well.
I remember doing two things in pee-wee football. First, I remember blitzing the QB from the left side OLB during practice one day. I’m pretty sure the fattest DL on the team beat me to the QB and I had a clear path. He had to go through two guys.
The second thing I remember was participating in one of the stupidest drills ever created by man: the fumble drill. Basically what our esteemed head football coach would do was put four lines of children around a square area. He would then throw the ball into the middle of this area, and let all four of us (CHILDREN) dive at each other to see who could recover the football.
Yeah, that guy wasn’t Heads Up Certified.
The reason I remember this drill was that I could never do it. I could never dive headlong into that pile and grab the ball, but my Dad was a coach so I could never not dive either. I had come up with the ever so perfect method of diving hard but juuuuuusst a bit outside. I’d get my hand on the ball occasionally, but mostly I just avoided the hit.
After one of these excruciating hours of trying to sell a dive harder than a European soccer player the head coach blew his whistle and said, “Great job boys! Get ready for tomorrow! Tomorrow we start really HITTING! YEAHHH!!!”
I remember my eight year old heart sinking all the way from my chest to my jock-strap and out onto the ground.
This wasn’t “hitting?!” There is something worse than this?!!!!
Yeah, no, I’m out.
My Dad took one look at my face and knew this whole thing was over.
We turned in my pads the next day.
To make matters worse my sister was a “cheerleader” for the rec football league – whatever the hell that was — so I still had to attend games. I’d go and sit and watch my friends play the game that I’ve always loved in a way that is so fused to my love for my father as to hardly be discernable. And I remember knowing but being unable to fully articulate a simple truth: Larry Munson would never call my name.
That realization doesn’t give me all that much pause now. I’d have liked to have met him, but I don’t lie awake at night dreaming of suiting up in the Red and Black.
No, sometimes I lie awake at night and think of doing Larry’s job.
Funny thing is, I thought of the same thing as an eight-year old standing in the outfield of a baseball field with a gridiron spray-painted on it. I thought to myself, “Well I sure as hell can’t play this game, but I bet I could call it better than anyone.”
This was true. Certified truth. Undeniable truth. I would be the greatest Pop Warner Radio Announcer that ever lived. You couldn’t stop me if you were Herschel Walker trying to Bill Bates all over my hopes and dreams. I’d Scott Woerner the shit out of all your nay-saying and find a way. No one cared about Pop Warner football? I’d make them care. I had very little command of the English language? Screw it, I’d yell “My God” and “ole lady luck” and “look at the clock” and “trying to save ourselves” as often as humanly possible. They’d know who I was as soon as I started talking: the next Larry Munson.
I wrote all of this down in a letter to the local radio station later that year. I never sent the letter. I think I still have that letter under my bed somewhere. Just in case…
Many years later I was an 8th grader attending a high school football game in Dublin, GA with my father. We knew the color guy for the Dodge County play-by-play team through the Tennis team (the sport I eventually settled on because I realized I couldn’t tackle anyone but I could beat the living hell out of a tennis ball). My father took me up to the booth to see him during halftime and he decided to “interview” me during the halftime show. For him it was a fun thing to do to pass the time, honestly it was probably more like wasting the time as high school bands are known to hang around on the field for hours at a time.
For me it was like Denzel Washington showing up at your school play.
I don’t even remember what I said, I just remember feeling that regret you feel after being dropped into a moment and completely unable to seize it. And yet at the same time feeling that exhilaration of actually having said my lines, if you will. I had been on the radio. During a football game. And that was something.
Larry Munson was the first one to teach me to dream.
Look At the Clock Saying, “No, No, No…”
Larry Munson was also the first to teach me who the real enemy was.
The real enemy is not Florida. It is not Tech. It is not Tennessee or Bama or ESPN or the Taliban.
It’s the clock.
The clock is always against us. It is never for us. It is always putting things in perspective when we want to be unfocused, idealistic, pollyanne, and just to dream a little longer. It always ensures that things that might have been are crushed by things that are. It’s why Shockley never got a chance for one more drive against West Virginia. Why Boykin didn’t get one more kick to bring back against Michigan State. Why Greene and Pollack didn’t get one more go together again. Why Murray didn’t have one more play against Auburn.
And why Conley couldn’t get one more catch against Alabama.
The clock is the death of the possible. The death of every thing that might have been or ought to have been or should have been or would have been if only we could get a first down.
The clock is death.
Larry always hated the clock and he taught us all to hate it too. Larry is probably the reason that right after Justin Scott-Wesley walked into the endzone to give Georgia the lead over LSU last year with a little over a minute to go I didn’t celebrate. Instead, I turned to my friend and said, “Dammit, Richt gave them too much time.”
The clock always says “no.”
After every late touchdown.
After every long drive.
Larry Munson never got to see Todd Gurley play a down of football. If he had, he probably would have described him in some glorious flurry of aforementioned steel chairs, boots affixed with hobnails and downward spiraling sugar as we alluded to in our Munson Week intro.
That is sad in a way I can’t quite express, and yet my being sad about it is utterly laughable in just about the same way.
For all its tragedy and absurdity, however, I do as Larry taught us.
I blame the clock.
Trying to Pretend We’re Not Tired
The only thing that can defeat the clock is ole Lady Luck.
Lady Luck hung with Larry for a long time. He was without doubt the best radio man in the country throughout the vast majority of his career. Most great play-by-play guys have a peak period then slowly decline through senility or other ailements into a shadow of their former selves.
This happened to Larry eventually, but it’s a testament to his incomparability that his 2nd most famous call behind Lindsay Scott was given in 2001, at the ripe young age of 79.
Think about that.
But Lady Luck can’t stay with anyone forever, it would seem, because ten years and one month after the Hobnail Boot (almost to the day) Larry Munson was dead.
It was a really difficult thing to hear that vigor and contentment and brilliance slowly dim and surrender to the long march of time. Larry became noticeably reliant on the spotter for player names, more general in his descriptions because his eyes weren’t what they used to be, and, most importantly, his voice lost a lot of that ‘gravel propelled by jet fuel and cigar smoke’ quality that made it so enamoring.
If you had asked me before writing this piece what I thought Larry Munson’s last great call was, I would have told you ‘2002 Auburn’ without thinking twice, even though I don’t necessarily call that one great. Of all the calls of historic UGA moments I actually think that is one of Larry’s worst. I suspect many of the precursors to his failing health had already begun to set it in at that point.
But while doing some research in the UGA Vault and any other site I could, I came across the following call from—wouldn’t you know it—my sophomore year at UGA, the 2006 Tech Game. This, in my mind, is truly Larry’s last great call. And it is downright beautiful if you remember that Larry’s health was clearly beginning to fade at this point. He was well into his 80’s. He had to know that he didn’t have many calls left in him. And in light of that he delivered this jewel…
Trying to pretend we’re not tired.
That phrase wrecks me in a way I can’t quite express. It provokes something in me, like all great art does, to reach into a fuller and deeper sense of what it means to be alive.
Larry was a great artist, and as an artist he taught me at least a piece of what it means to feel, to hope, and to pray.
I say ‘pray’ because you can’t listen to Larry and not hear the register of something close to prayer, even if it is directed to ole Lady Luck. Larry Munson was the greatest of all time precisely because he took you to that edge, that boundary between the everday and someting transcendent, and he took you over the edge with him.
Larry was the greatest of all time because Larry took images of young men in silly uniforms carrying a leather ball around a field marked off by spray paint in front of thousands of people ostensibly wasting their Saturday afternoons to watch this pointless competition; Larry took all that and turned it into the sort of human magic that presses us towards something that feels like eternity, certainly something that was undoubtedly ‘great.’
Larry made me begin to believe that even when we’re stuck on our 8 with a man coming on us and only Nat Hudson to save us, maybe there will be a block behind us.
Larry taught me to hope for a place out in all the dark where we’ve staggered bleeding and bloodied and bandaged all the way down to their four yard-line, but we’re not too tired to hang on.
Where Ole Lady Lucky has saved us again.
Where our hearts were ripped out and bleeding but we picked them up and stuck them back inside.
Where the stadium is worse than bonkers.
A place where voices like Larry’s are never silenced again.