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.
"HE'S RUNNING OVER PEOPLE..."
"THE STADIUM ROCKS AND SWINGS..."
"MY GOD ALMIGHTY DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID..."
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.
"45, 40 -- RUN, LINDSAY -- 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT!"
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