Georgia Bulldogs fans have a complicated relationship with Loran Smith, a longtime fixture on the UGA athletics scene. Sort of like that uncle with the bad jokes that you love dearly but would rather not sit next to at Thanksgiving.
I mean, no one questions that Smith is probably the most loyal citizen of the Bulldog Nation. He seems to know just about everyone and is topped probably only by the legendary Dan Magill in his knowledge of UGA athletes over the decades.
A longtime leukemia patient, Smith has worked tirelessly on behalf of a cancer support center at Athens Regional Medical Center that bears his name.
And his Bulldog bona fides are unquestionable. Uga VI’s kennel name was “Uga V’s Whatchagot Loran,” after Larry Munson’s longtime way of introducing one of Smith’s sideline reports during Georgia football games. And Uga VII is officially named “Loran’s Best.” How can you not feel fondly toward a guy who’s had two of the university’s celebrated mascots named after him?
That’s where those sideline reports come in.
When Larry would utter that familiar phrase you never knew what to expect from Smith except that only occasionally would it have any relevance to what was happening on the field. A favorite story among fans concerns the mid-game sideline report from Smith that then-Georgia defensive end Charles Grant likes boiled peanuts — a revelation that was met with silence from Munson, followed by, “Third and six.”
Then there’s Loran’s somewhat unorthodox interviewing style, which isn’t entirely out of place in the lengthy pregame “Tailgate Show” (soon to grow by another hour), but leaves listeners frustrated and interviewees bemused during the postgame locker show. He’s as likely to ask one of the game’s star players about something the kid’s hometown is known for as he is the game itself. And nobody lobs a softball to the coaches like Loran, as in “How pleased are you that your team won the game today?”
The one time Smith actually asked something pertinent — questioning Jim Donnan about a host of players leaving the game with cramps against South Carolina in 1997 — he got his head bitten off by the head coach.
(While Bulldogs fans may complain about Loran, they didn’t take kindly to Donnan, still considered something of an outsider at the time, acting snippy toward a UGA legend on the air. Donnan didn’t make many friends in the Bulldog Nation that day.)
So now comes word that new rights holder ISP Sports is going to do some revamping of the football radio broadcasts. They say Smith will still play a role, but don’t say what that role is. Quite a few UGA fans have gone on record hoping we’ll at least get a new sideline reporter. And maybe a new locker room interviewer, too. Limit Loran’s rambling stories and interviews to the “Tailgate Show,” they say.
I can’t argue with that. But I’m here today to say something in defense of Loran Smith.
Loran Smith, the writer, that is.
Because as awkward and embarrassing as Loran might be on the air, he’s the exact opposite on the printed page. His encyclopedic knowledge of Bulldogs lore makes him the ideal editor of the UGA game programs (for which he writes virtually all the articles). He’s written numerous books about the Bulldogs, including the 1980 celebration “Glory, Glory” with Lewis Grizzard, “Dooley’s Dawgs,” “Between the Hedges” (a wonderful chronicle of the first hundred years of UGA football), “Finish the Drill” and “The Georgia Football Vault,” plus volumes on the Masters, Athens and tailgating recipes (the latter done with his wife, Myrna).
And his frequent newspaper columns, published in the Athens Banner-Herald and a few other Georgia papers, are a warm, engaging mix of updates on old Bulldog athletes, tributes to departed Dawgs, stories from the old days (when Loran and Dan Magill are gone, who will tell these tales?) plus reminiscences and musings on just about any subject, from traveling in Europe to a wounded veteran, a favorite brand of sausage, the decline of newspapers, his love of golf and persimmon trees.
His column after the 2007 win over Florida, describing the victorious locker room scene and how Vince Dooley had told the players about the days when UGA owned that series and Bulldog players looked forward with pride to Jacksonville, got me a bit misty-eyed, I have to say.
And as clunky as he might be on radio, Smith shines in print. “Regrettably, we lost a tree last year,” he wrote not too long ago, “but that means we will have plenty of firewood for a couple or more winters. Losing a tree causes heartache, but when it becomes firewood, you curiously feel there is something of an extension of its life through its usefulness.”
That’s downright eloquent. Though as one of my brothers pointed out, “that’s because you didn’t have to listen to Loran saying it.”
Which sort of sums up the Loran Smith conundrum.
So let someone else report to us from the sideline about what’s going on during a game. Maybe that will give Loran more time to tell his readers about Charles Grant and the joys of boiled peanuts.