Monday, November 21, 2011

Larry Munson: The voice in my head

The football I caught all the game-winning touchdowns with was made out of vinyl. Each section was a different color, none found in nature. It was from a dime store. It was not regulation. But I'd fire it high into the air -- did I mention I was also a record-setting quarterback? -- and track it down the length of our side yard. Sometimes I would slow down so I'd have to dive for the catch. And as I held the ball in the air to celebrate, I was also the announcer, going crazy over yet another last-second win.

Kids everywhere do this sort of thing. But I was a Georgia boy. So even though the announcer was me, the call was not really mine. The voice in my head was Larry Munson.

Munson died Sunday night at 89. He started calling Georgia Bulldogs football on the radio when I was two years old. On the Sears Roebuck stereo in my childhood bedroom, in the dorm at UGA, driving around Charlotte at night trying to pull in WSB from Atlanta, Larry called out to me.




In TV sports, it's a bonus if the announcer is good, but you don't need it -- the action is there in front of you. On the radio, the voice is everything. He makes you see. "Get the picture," Larry Munson said before every kickoff, and he would tell you which way each team faced and the colors of the uniforms and how hard the wind was blowing and where the shadows fell across the field. He was always worried. Auburn had that big running back and Georgia Tech was hungry to beat us and even Kentucky could pull the upset if we looked too far ahead and dropped a couple on the turf and the penalties, oh, the penalties...

He was a homer -- Georgia was always "we" -- but if he was watching a pile of manure, he never called it chocolate. One miserable night in Starkville, when Georgia was losing to Mississippi State in a lightning storm, Loran Smith -- the Bulldogs' sideline reporter -- checked in to say he was going to call it a night. Munson pondered this and said: "I don't think Loran's calling it a night. I think Loran is going to a graveyard to find a dead man named Jack Daniels."

After a bout with throat cancer 18 years ago, I ended up with a pretty good Larry Munson voice. But every Georgia fan does an impression. Lay down a bed of gravel in the back of your throat, act like right now is the most important moment in human history, and you're off. I remember the campus radio station doing a skit about Munson cooking breakfast: "And the egg CRACKS open and DRIVES into the skillet... FIVE seconds... TEN seconds... needs a block..."

If you follow sports the voices fill your head. Maybe, for you, it's Vin Scully calling the Dodgers. Maybe it's Dick Vitale at Carolina-Duke. For me it's a guy who played piano with Sinatra in Minneapolis, had a fishing show in Nashville, and found his home in a radio booth in Athens, Georgia. He told the stories of the moments I cared about. When he said "we," he wasn't just talking about himself and the team. He was talking about me and all those other listeners. He made me, and them, into us.

I happened to be in Athens on the day of the Georgia-Florida game in 1980. I was on my high-school debate team, and we had been in a tournament, and we gathered in an auditorium on campus waiting for the results. Some kids in the back had a radio and were listening to the game down in Jacksonville. I couldn't hear the words, but I could hear the tone of Larry's voice. Georgia was done. Third-and-forever on their own 8.

And then Larry's voice rose, and I looked over my shoulder and the kids in the back had jumped out of their seats. I know this next part didn't happen, but it's what I remember: The radio was dancing off the floor and the words were flying out of it, like you see in cartoons.


We ran outside. You could hear hollering from the dorms, and car horns honking, and people just stood there on the sidewalk and screamed. This went on for hours. I was 16, and it was the most spontaneous joy I had ever been a part of. From that moment on I knew where I would be going to college.

It wasn't until later that I heard what Larry said after he got Lindsay Scott into the end zone. For a while, there was nothing on the air but the cheers of the Georgia fans in the Gator Bowl. Then Munson said this.

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. I broke it. The booth came apart. The stadium, well, the stadium fell down. Now they do have to renovate this thing. They will have to rebuild it now. I, this, this is incredible. I didn't mean to beg Lindsay to run, but I HAD to. 26-21 with a passing attack that wasn't working all DAY, and Lindsay caught it, I think, the 25 or 30 or so, no timeouts left in the game.

You know, this game has always been called the World's Greatest Cocktail Party. Do you know what is going to happen here tonight, and up in St. Simons ... where all those Dawg people have got these condominiums for four days? Man, is there going to 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.

If that impossible, spontaneous poetry ends up being the voice you grow up with, the voice of your team, the voice in your head ... all you can do is accept the gift and count yourself lucky to hear it.


-- Tommy Tomlinson


Homan Designs Photography said...

Nice piece. Tommy

Phillip said...

Thanks for the article. I'm only 23 but I remember so many of Larry's calls. I, too, would try my best to pick up WSB in Charlotte so I could hear him instead of the television announcers.

No announcers I have ever heard can compare to Munson. Truly will be missed and already is missed from the radio booth.

Ted Kohn said...

God love you Tommy. Brilliant piece.

Anonymous said...

Tommy....this has been the Best Tribute to Larry Muson and is truly a Gift to all those Dawg fans that I just sent it to!!! Including all those in St. Simon's and Jekyll Island where there is gonna be some Property Destroyed tonite!!! Beat Tech..Take No Prisoners!!!
Bless ya!
Fred Griffith

Andy B. said... the tribute to Larry. He made weak seasons entertaining and the best seasons unforgettable.

John P said...

Tommy ... This was an incredible piece. Thanks for the memories - yours, mine, and every Dawg fan's ...

Anonymous said...

Amen...the Bulldawg nation has lost a great one...."sugar is falling from the sky"...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tribute Tommy. Like many expats in Charlotte, I used to try to get the AM radio to pick-up WSB in Atlanta, WNGC in Athens to catch the Dawgs. Most UGA folks preferred to listen to Munson over watching on TV if they could not be at the game.

The kind comments from other SEC rivals are very classy and greatly appreciated as well.

RIP Larry Munson.

Michael said...

John Ward, Cawood Ledford, John Forney . . . great ones all, but Larry was unique. They would have thrown him out of broadcast school and burned every mic he ever touched, but Lord what a sound, what a voice, what a ritual to anticipate each and every weekend in the fall.

One last thing Dawg fans: Your SEC brethren sincerely mourn your loss. But this Alabama fan hopes we meet in Atlanta and we beat you so badly that PETA intercedes.

I think Larry would respect that, and God love him for it.


Anonymous said...

Great article! My son and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you. It was just what I needed after hearing of Munson's passing.

Anonymous said...

Allow my actions to speak louder than my words: Read your article out loud to by husband with a tear in my eye. What a beautiful & raspy sentiment to a man we loved so much.

P.S. He is the voice in my head too.

Fellow Dawg in the Queen City

Anonymous said...

This is the best written tribute I have seen. We all have our own Munson memories and stories. My heart broke last night when I heard the news and I can't help but be happy he was able to see the Dawgs win one more SEC East title before he went to grace the skies above with his presence. I hope that the boys from the south are able to win out this season and beat LSU/Alabama/Arkansas in the Dome so that there can be some more sUGAr falling from the sky.

Do it for Larry, boys. He was a DGD and a legend that will be missed by many and remembered by all as THE "Voice of the Dawgs".

Hunker Down, Dawgs. Hunker Down.

Rick Jabbo said...

I was in high school in Augusta, Ga. and I remember that Lindsay Scott call like it was yesterday. Thanks for bringing back some great memories Tommy. RIP Larry, and "Go you Silver Britches"!!

Marion said...

sniff. what a great tribute - thanks for capturing so much.

Anonymous said...

A voice that is no other. I use to turn down the volume on the tv to listen to Larry while watching the game on tv.

From an Alabama fan


Anonymous said...

I always enjoy reading your articles, you put life into everything you write, just like Munson put life into everything he saw on the field. From one kid who grew up in Georgia and a Dawg Fan, to another, Thank You!!! Well said my friend, well said indeed!!
Tammy S. Tingle
Huntersville, NC

TigerLinda said...

Absolutely fantastic and beautifully written piece, Tommy. Larry Munson was truly one of a kind - and even I, quite possibly the world's most rabid Auburn fan, can and did appreciate him. The ride from here to The Loveliest Village was always better when I could listen to Larry calling a Georgia game as I traveled. Your tribute is wonderful - I hope someone will share it with his family.

Go Gamecocks! said...

Bob Fulton in 2010 (USC) and now Larry Munson a year later. Nothing like a game on the radio!

Tommy truly gets it!

Thanks for the brilliant writing about a time I won't forget.

Anonymous said...

thank you Tommy - from all of us UGA ex-pats in ACC land here... Munson will forever be "the voice of the Bulldogs" - RIP Larry Munson - we know you are up sitting up there in your metal chair, with a flask tucked away and a couple of the UGAs curled up under your seat...

Mimi said...

Great tribute to a great man. Thanks for making Larry's calls come alive once again. It just isn't the same without him. But, now he and Lewis Grizzard can cheer the Dawgs on to victorious finishes against the North Ave Trade School and our next SEC opponent.

Steve Marsh said...

Tommy, Great column but please, Dick Vitale is NOT the voice of the Tar Heels. That Bronx foghorn makes my Southern ears bleed and my stomach churn. The voice of the Tar Heels, at least the one I still hear in my head is Woody Durham. Probably will still hear his voice for many years to come.