UPDATE: All three flags — UGA, state of Georgia and U.S. — were at half-staff in front of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Monday. Just inside the double doors, a hand-painted portrait of Larry Munson sat on an easel in the entry way. Otherwise, it was business as usual inside the complex. The Georgia Bulldogs met late morning and early afternoon, practiced into the evening and ate a Thanksgiving dinner together there on Monday. Afterward, head coach Mark Richt said the team was planning a way to pay tribute to Munson their uniforms this Saturday against Georgia Tech, most likley some kind of decal for their helmets, but he wanted it to be a surprise.
ATHENS – Buck Belue and Larry Munson forever will be linked because of Munson’s famous Belue-to-Scott call from Jacksonville, Fla., in 1980. But Munson actually made an impression on Belue well before he played football for the Bulldogs.
“He was a legendary guy even when I was a kid,” said Belue, quarterback of Georgia’s 1980 championship team. “I remember it was 1970 or ‘71 and my grandmother, ‘Mama Sarah,’ lived in White Columns right there on the corner of Baxter and Milledge. They were having the homecoming parade and I’ll never forget when Munson came by. He was in the back of a convertible. He had a cigar in one hand, a Budweiser in the other and cheerleaders sitting on either side of him. I asked my Dad, ‘who’s that?’ Right then, two women streakers ran by right in front of him. That was my first recollection Munson, that homecoming parade.”
Of course, it was another run — the one when Lindsay Scott took Belue’s short pass 92 yards for a touchdown to beat Florida in the final minutes in 1980 – that connected all three of those individuals for life. It might have been just another big play in Georgia’s biggest season had Munson not painted the picture as he did.
He described the action on the field, he pleaded for Lindsay to run faster, he broke his chair, he predicted property damage and told Georgia fans exactly how they felt. “I gave up; you did, too!” he said.
“It’s such an honor, really, just to be part of the Georgia tradition,” Belue said. “But to be part of a play like that and have him bring it to life like he did, it’s something nobody will ever forget and we can all thank him for that.”
Munson, Georgia’s legendary play-by-play announcer for more than 40 years, passed away Sunday night due to complications from pneumonia. He was 89.
As of Monday afternoon, funeral arrangements had not been determined. Munson’s body will be cremated, according to Charley Whittemore, UGA assistant athletic director for facilities and a close friend of Munson. Whittemore said they are in the planning stages for a memorial service in Sanford Stadium that would take place sometime after the Bulldogs’ SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3.
“We’re trying to make sure it wouldn’t disrupt anything that’s happening on campus,” said Whittemore, who said Saturday, Dec. 10, is the likely date. “We’ll be having exams at that time, so we want to be respectful of that. But there will probably be a small ceremony, something that would make a proper memorial for a man of the people such as Larry was.”
Like Belue, Loran Smith also will be forever inked with Munson. It was sometime shortly after Smith became sideline reporter for Bulldogs’ radio network in 1974 that Munson would throw it to him by saying, “Whattaya got, Loran?” To this day, Smith answers to that reference everywhere he goes.
“Oh, yeah, happens all the time,” Smith said. “I get it on the phone, I get introduced that way when I speak. It’s something that was sort of a reflection of Munson’s style. He was sort of an off-the-wall kind of guy. You never knew what he’d come up with. That was just his way of bringing in the comments from the field, but it caught on. A lot of things he did caught on because he had such a unique style. It was endearing, as far as I was concerned, which I appreciate.”
Whatever Munson did or said, it tended to be memorable. If you were fortunate enough to be involved in one of Georgia’s highlight moments, his words acted as the bronze that would preserve that moment in time.
Georgia coach Mark Richt experienced the Munson phenomenon his first year with the Bulldogs. In 2001, Richt called a play-action, pass play – forever known now as P-44 Haynes – which resulted in the game-winning touchdown against Tennessee in Knoxville. After David Greene completed the pass to Verron Haynes, Munson proclaimed that the Bulldogs had just “stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose.”
“It was a special honor for me personally when Larry had such a signature and memorable call during my first season with the ‘Hobnail Boot,’” Richt said on Monday. “. . . Getting to know him over the years was an honor and privilege for me. I know he loved Georgia and Georgia football and the Bulldog Nation loved Larry.”
That was thing about Munson, Belue said. His descriptive powers were unmatched.
“His talent was just to bring it to life,” Belue said. “He gave life to the story and brought the characters to life. That’s what set him apart. To listen to him do a game, no matter what you felt like it was the biggest game of the year.”
And when it really was, that’s when the magic happened.
“His face is on the Mount Rushmore of the Georgia Bulldogs,” said Jeff Dantzler, a resident historian who calls baseball and basketball games for the Bulldogs. “He will forever be the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs and one of our most beloved icons and treasures. He will live forever in the hearts of the Georgia people.”
With nearly a half-century-long relationship with the state’s flagship university, Munson’s reach is enormous. Even Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued a statement on the occasion of Munson’s passing.
“For the citizens of the Bulldog Nation, Larry Munson’s voice provided the gravelly, dramatic soundtrack to their favorite movie, ‘Saturday in Athens,’” Gov. Deal said. “For more than 40 years, Munson gave listeners so much more than a retelling of the events playing out on the field; he connected with fans through a shared passion for the University of Georgia. His words captured the emotional highs and lows of his fellow Bulldog fans. As Georgians join me in mourning his passing from this life to the next, Larry Munson lives on in immortality through highlight reels and the memories of the UGA faithful.”
Said UGA Director of Athletics, Greg McGarity: “We are deeply indebted to Larry for his wonderful contributions to
the University of Georgia. For over four decades, Larry poured his heart and soul into Georgia football. His passion, energy, and love for our Bulldogs were clearly evident at all times — especially on Saturdays during the fall. For those of us who were able to hear Larry paint the picture with his live play-by-play calls, we are very fortunate. For those who were able
to know Larry, our lives were enriched by a once-in-a-lifetime treasure.”
In lieu of flowers, the Munson family requests that donations be made to the “Noah Harris Cheerleading Scholarship.” The endowed scholarship is awarded annually to a student-athlete on the cheerleading team who demonstrates outstanding character, leadership, and dedication to the athletic program and the community. The fund was established in 2006 in memory of 1st Lieutenant Noah Harris who was a cheerleader for UGA. Donation checks should be made payable to the UGA Foundation with the designation “Noah Harris Cheerleading Scholarship in memory of Larry Munson. They may be sent to the Georgia Bulldog Club, PO Box 1472, Athens, GA 30603.