The mighty Munson: A singular voice that will resonate forever

The man, the voice, the legend. (AJC file photo)

Larry Munson: The man, the voice, the legend. (AJC file photo)

He wasn’t the classic radio voice. On purely technical terms, he wasn’t the paragon of play-by-play, either. But such was the power of the mighty Munson personality that none of that mattered. You didn’t care if his calls were vague or his growl sounded like a Waring blender being jammed down a garbage disposal. You cared only that the man behind the microphone agonized as much over this particular football game as you did.

This isn’t to suggest Larry Munson wasn’t a pro. He was. But he was the amateur’s pro. There was no distance in him. He’d beseech the Georgia defense to hunker down – “One … more … time” — and he’d fret that a perfectly winnable game was unwinnable simply because that’s way of all fretters, and when the unwinnable game somehow got won the growl would raise hosannas as sweet as any bit of church music.

The idea of radio play-to-play was, in those long-ago days before every game found some television outlet, to paint a picture and to tell a story. Munson painted like Van Gogh on a starry night and conjured up better stories than Jack London. When the Georgia Tech broadcaster Al Ciraldo died a few years ago, Munson lamented his passing by saying, “We’re the last of a breed.”

In Munson’s day, the radio man was the fans’ only constant conduit to a team. On any given autumn Saturday nowadays we can watch a dozen games, but we couldn’t back then. The Rex Robinson game in Lexington in 1978? Wasn’t on live TV. The Herschel debut in Knoxville two years later? Wasn’t on live TV. The sugar-falling-from-the-sky game in Auburn two years after that? Wasn’t on live TV.

Any broadcaster could give you the down and distance; only Munson could give you the agony and the ecstasy. From property being destroyed on St. Simons after Belue-to-Scott to the Volunteer noses broken by the hobnailed boot, the Munson sense of imagery was a gale force unto itself. Nobody else sounded like him. Nobody else would choose the words he chose. The first time I heard Munson doing a Georgia game, I thought I had, by a trick of the ionosphere, tuned into some ham radioman having a nervous breakdown. The more I listened to him, the more I realized my first impression wasn’t far wrong, and I mean that in the best possible way.

There were no mail-in Saturdays for Munson. Every week was another passion play. Didn’t matter if the Bulldogs were playing the worst team in creation — Munson would worry to the extent that his listeners started breaking out in flop sweat because, halfway through the first quarter, Podunk State was “acting as if she wants to score.”

True fact: Vince Dooley, himself a worrier of renown, would try to avoid Munson during the week because, Dooley said, “he makes me nervous.” When Dooley would go overboard extolling some overmatched opponent’s virtues, we’d all wink. When Munson started growling on (and on) about the speed of Podunk … well, the winking would cease and the nerve-jangling would commence. You’d suspend disbelief simply because of the force of one voice.

I’m proud to say I knew the man, and I must tell you this: There was no artifice in the Munson persona. What you heard on-air was the Larry Munson. I’ll never forget that cold day in Auburn back in 2002, when 10-1 Georgia, ranked No. 7 in the land, was trying to win the SEC East for the first time. Before kickoff, I asked Munson what he thought. He looked at me as if I was crazy for even asking. “We haven’t got a chance in hell,” he said.

History will record that Georgia won on the fourth-down pass — 70-X-Takeoff, the play was called — from David Greene to Michael Johnson, and again the Bulldogs had overridden the odds and the fates and the primordial Munson doubts to prevail. And that was why Munson held us in such thrall: Georgia wouldn’t win because it had twice the talent of its opponent but because good had, miracle of miracles, trumped evil.

To listen to Cawood Ledford, the greatest pure play-by-play man who ever lived, call a Kentucky basketball game was to hear talent and craftsmanship. To hear Munson at work was to be bombarded by the sheer depth of feeling for what he was witnessing. When the famous Memphis record man Sam Phillips first heard the blues singer Howlin’ Wolf on the radio, Phillips is said to have said: “This is where the soul of  man never dies.”

To hear Larry Munson call Georgia football was to experience something similar. (And surely it was no coincidence that Munson was, in an earlier manifestation, a professional piano player. He had the ears to go with the voice.) The great man passed away Sunday night at age 89; the great growl will live forever.

By Mark Bradley

378 comments Add your comment

GT 2011

November 20th, 2011
11:43 pm

Rest in Peace Larry Munson.

JOSH B.

November 20th, 2011
11:46 pm

Larry Munson is and always will be Georgia football. He was not just an announcer he was part of the program and will forever be linked to UGA as long as they keep fielding a team between the hedges.

Napalm311

November 20th, 2011
11:46 pm

RIP Larry Munson Our thoughts and prayers gos out for your family and friends.

Tom Miller

November 20th, 2011
11:49 pm

Rest in Peace Larry … Walk up a staircase of sugar in your hob nail boots right into the best suite in Heaven. ( or in the broadcast booth and tell us how it is up there!)

Hail Munson

November 20th, 2011
11:50 pm

“Hail Munson”

Hail Munson, full of grace
Our ears are with thee.
Blessed art thou among announcers
And blessed is the call of your voice,
Hobnailed
Holy Munson, father of the mic
Pull for us Bulldogs
Now and every Saturday game.
Amen.

NJ Dawg

November 20th, 2011
11:53 pm

Bulldog Nation will never have another like Larry Munson. When I was young, it was tradition at my house to turn down the TV volume and listen to Larry call the game on the radio. He’ll be missed.

Rest in peace.

GWJ

November 20th, 2011
11:53 pm

Damn Good Dog!!

rlinaug

November 20th, 2011
11:54 pm

Mark, in a piece full of great lines, this one “Any broadcaster could give you the down and distance; only Munson could give you the agony and the ecstasy” stands out. Thanks;

MM

November 20th, 2011
11:54 pm

He simply was the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

Dave

November 20th, 2011
11:55 pm

Marlene

November 20th, 2011
11:55 pm

When I watched UGA play on TV, I turned the TV volume off and listened to Larry Munson on the radio.
Larry Muson was definitely Georgia football. UGA Alum

Mark Bradley

November 20th, 2011
11:56 pm

Thanks, rlinaug.

dobearsbare

November 20th, 2011
11:57 pm

Mark, you have to post the column about Larry filling in on a Braves broadcast. Please. Some of your best work.

flagboy?

November 20th, 2011
11:57 pm

Rest in Peace.

Feels like a little connection I had with my father and grandfather was lost today.

Michael

November 20th, 2011
11:58 pm

Incredibly well written piece, Mark.

A great tribute to one of the most transcendent human beings in sports. Larry will be missed!

Paul in NH

November 21st, 2011
12:00 am

RIP Larry – There will never be another one like him,
Mark – A tremendous blog by you. Deaths of legends (e.g. Smokin Joe) bring out your best writing but unfortunately they seem to be coming way too close together.

RHR

November 21st, 2011
12:00 am

Well done, Mark.

Too teary eyed to type more.

Rest in sweet peace, Larry.

MerryMary

November 21st, 2011
12:02 am

What “Hail Munson said…”

There will never be another like Mr. Munson. I saw him once in the grocery store and told him, “Larry, you don’t know me but I love you.” He just gave me a big ol’ smile. I can’t read his famous calls without choking up and that was BEFORE he passed. Prayers for his family and may he rest in peace…except for every game when we beseech him to “pull for us Bulldogs.” :-)

Lee

November 21st, 2011
12:03 am

great job Bradley, you captured Larry and how he held the game in his hand. we’ll miss him, RIP

Dawgmess

November 21st, 2011
12:03 am

I knew this day was coming soon. I cried anyway.

mark

November 21st, 2011
12:05 am

I’ve read you for years Mark. Thank you for this fine article sir. Couldn’t have be written any better!

Ghost of Lewis Grizzard

November 21st, 2011
12:07 am

Larry Munson was the only one who could truly convey the real urgency of the game: “it is our way of life against theirs!” God bless him and his family.

defacto

November 21st, 2011
12:07 am

Mark,

In your own way, you approach the same status for those who still treasure true newspaper professionals. I turn to your work for insight and perspective I can’t find elsewhere. Once again, you’ve provided a different look at a true legend. Larry has been and will be missed. I’m sad that future generations of sports fans will never know the magic of Larry Munson.

Mark Bradley

November 21st, 2011
12:08 am

Thanks for the kind words, folks. There aren’t many people who can accurately be labeled “one of a kind,” but Mr. Munson absolutely was.

bb

November 21st, 2011
12:12 am

on the mark, Mark

The Falcon Jedi

November 21st, 2011
12:16 am

I re-read this twice. And I have concluded that this was a very honorable epitaph for Mr. Munson. He was what he was – which was UGA, and will be immortalized. Very well done.

Right On Time

November 21st, 2011
12:18 am

I was just thinking Saturday about how much I missed him the last 3 years. There wil never, ever be another like him. An age has gone and it makes me sad.

boots

November 21st, 2011
12:21 am

Heavy heart tonight. I grew up listening to Larry with my dad. I turned down the TV once that evil took over college ball and still listened to Larry. He was a voice in my life and made me rich for having known him. God be with you, Larry. Hunker down, my friend.

MightyQuinn

November 21st, 2011
12:22 am

Excellent column Mark. I always loved his fretting when the Dawgs were ahead late in the game and, as he put it, “…the clock REFUSES to MOVE!!!”

chris

November 21st, 2011
12:22 am

well done Mark, as usual

The Falcon Jedi

November 21st, 2011
12:23 am

Larry Munson was the biggest UGA Fan there ever was. And that is why he was the voice of Dawg Fans everywhere.

GaDawg59

November 21st, 2011
12:24 am

Larry will always be the voice of the Bulldawg nation. He was one of us. He made us feel like we were sitting there with him watching the game. He was our like uncle telling us a story. We hung on to every word he said. He always said get the picture. He was a painter who told us like no other could ever do. He will be missed but live in our hearts forever. I know this coming Saturday that he will be looking down on the Dawgs telling them to hunker down one more time. He and Lewis Grizzzard can sip on a nice beverage and smoke a victory cigar. God bless him and his family. Thank you for a well written article Mark.

Terrible Truth

November 21st, 2011
12:29 am

Hope the fishing is good up there, my friend.

57Cat

November 21st, 2011
12:31 am

Enter your comments here

Dave in Buford

November 21st, 2011
12:33 am

Farewell, Larry.

When I was a freshman in 1978, my grandmother decided to listen to the Georgia Tech game because I was at UGA and she thought she’d root for the Dogs, although she was not a football fan. That Tech game was one of the greatest college football games ever played, and she called me the next day to ask me who that Larry Munson guy was. She became a fan that day solely because of Munson.
Larry will live forever in our hearts and minds … I can hear him now and will be able to whenever I want to.

We were lucky to have him … nobody could paint a picture like he could and nobody ever will.

Chris@project961.com

November 21st, 2011
12:33 am

Brilliantly. You captured exactly why Munson was so unique and such a rare talent. There won’t be another like him. I feel lucky to have been a Georgia fan through so much of the Munson era.

SatillaDawg

November 21st, 2011
12:35 am

Run, Lindsay, Run!

For as long as I live, I shall never forget the excitement of that moment…and that call.

God Bless You, Larry. You’ll ALWAYS be The Greatest!

Deeds

November 21st, 2011
12:35 am

Nice work/tribute, Mark.

Dave in Buford

November 21st, 2011
12:37 am

Farewell, Larry.

In my freshman year I listened to you call the 1978 Kentucky game on a old vacuum tube AM radio … the signal was fading in and out and what I could hear was scratchy with static, but it was a revelation. Your call of the last drive and Rex Robinson’s field goal to put the Dogs ahead was unforgettable and I was lost from that day forward.

We were lucky to have you.

57Cat

November 21st, 2011
12:38 am

(Sorry, Mark. Accidentally hit the Submit button too soon.). Excellent column! I hated when I came to the end. I hope you repost the column re the Braves broadcast by Larry. I have not seen it before, but I’ll bet it’s a classic.

Joe Cox

November 21st, 2011
12:38 am

larry brought me the dogs games out in my valet lot downtown. i was a student paying my way through Ga state university. i never hated working a single saturday in fall. outside a fancy restaurant with the limo drivers listening to my battery operated radio… in 2002 at the win in kentucky “what are we doing? we’re 8-0!?” i transferred to UGA the next year. RIP Larry. you were one of a kind

Dr. Morpheus

November 21st, 2011
12:41 am

What a beautiful tribute, Mark. Larry Munson meant a lot to us and in a few short words you’ve reminded us why. Reading this, people who weren’t there during Larry’s tenure will still be able to “Get the picture.” Thanks a million.

cantondawg

November 21st, 2011
12:42 am

rlinaug,

I was about to post your comment…Mark Bradley hit the nail on the head when he said that any announcer could tell you down or distance but only Munson could tell the agony and ecstacy…That is so true.

Yunel's Frosted Tips

November 21st, 2011
12:45 am

God Bless the man who helped me grow up on Georgia Football…………….RIP

JYD47

November 21st, 2011
12:49 am

Very well done Mark, by the way, I still don’t know if Butler made that field goal against Clemson, but I’m assuming from all the screaming Larry was doing that it was good :) Larry was one of a kind. Hearing his voice coming from the radio could only mean one thing…”hunker down Dawgs! I hate to keep begging but HUNKER IT DOWN 1 MORE TIME!!!!”

Hairy Dawg

November 21st, 2011
1:00 am

I grew up a Dawg fan in a Tech family. They had Al Ciraldo; I had Munson. We were lucky to have those two as the voice of our autumns, but only Munson could take the Lord’s name and weave word tapestries with it. My ears told me that that name wasn’t used in vain, especially when uttered in exultation for my Dawgs.

We miss you, Larry. Requiescat in pace.

Brock

November 21st, 2011
1:02 am

Mark…this is undoubtedly your greatest work ever. Thank you for capturing the magic of Munson in such an eloquent manner.

Sargent Carter

November 21st, 2011
1:04 am

There never was and never will be anyone like LARRY MUNSON. He is in my heart and spirit and will never die. He is a sports guy for us guys. Sugar falling from the sky and hobnail boots and Lindsay Scott are testaments to the guy who was the guy. Larry, you ARE so cooollll!!!!!

flatsdawg1

November 21st, 2011
1:05 am

He left us hopefully knowing the dawgs made it to the Championship game to answer a higher call, and he’ll be looking down at the tech game and the SECCG with a “Hunker Down Guys” I’m sure, He was the best. My thoughts are with him and his family and all of the bulldog nation.

bigeasy830

November 21st, 2011
1:11 am

Next time UGA makes it to the Sugar Bowl, all Bulldogs fans will say “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky”, and We will know you will be the one pouring it down on your beloved Bulldogs from heaven. God needed a play by play man so he called Larry Munson home.

R.I.P.
Larry Munson