This was Larry Munson’s weekend.
Friday marked what would have been the former Georgia football play-by-play announcer’s 90th birthday, and the athletic department celebrated by naming the home-side radio booth at Sanford Stadium in his honor.
Then the Bulldogs defeated Tennessee, a team Munson loved to hate, with the kind of drama he became so famous for describing with on-the-fly idioms and endearing slips of the tongue.
After spending more than four decades in the booth before retiring in September 2008 and passing away in November, Munson’s voice remains in fans’ heads, narrating so many of the biggest plays Georgia history.
Saturday’s dedication and the plaque that hangs next to the radio booth’s door simply serve as a tangible extension of that lasting impression in a stadium he painted with his words.
His eldest son, Michael, recalled all the time his father logged in Sanford Stadium, wandering its hallways for hours before games and filling up the radio booth with his excited calls.
“It’s something special to us because it kind of permanently puts him in the stadium forever,” said Michael, who was on hand for the dedication. “This is where he spent all his time. If we were talking about a game like today when they start at 3:30, he would have been here at 7 in the morning. And whether it’s Scott Howard or someone else in the booth now, if someone’s remembering who he was, then we’re honored.”
If Munson was emotional on the air, he was also realistic about Georgia athletics, warts and all. As much as that attitude — often described as downright pessimistic — resounded with fans, his impact was as wide-reaching in broadcasting, too, where few people have become so beloved and synonymous with a program and its fans, said Dan Magill, the former Georgia athlete and men’s tennis coach and a historian of all things Bulldogs sports.
Magill had a hand in hiring Munson in 1966 and it was his idea to make and sell recordings of his best calls – an instant hit.
“He had such an impact here,” said Magill, after whom the Sanford Stadium press box is named. “He had a very big impact in the media.”
No doubt the tapes of Munson’s “hobnail boot” call from the Bulldogs’ 2001 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville were getting more plays than usual in the last week. And with that classic call coming against Tennessee — a rival that ranked with Munson among Florida and Georgia Tech in riling up the broadcaster, his son said — Munson called it a favorite of his behind only “Run, Lindsey, run!”
Whatever you label the quality Munson was able to spin into those calls, it was all his own.
“I knew Larry most of his life, I’ve seen all the great histories about him and read all about him, but I still don’t know how he could come up with the descriptions he had,” Georgia President Michael Adams said. “He was just so into it, and I’m not even sure he knew where they came from. But that’s who Larry was.”
Munson’s brand of improvisation was a perfect fit for the Vince Dooley era of Georgia football, and much of his best work came from those games. When things were at their wildest, Larry was at his best, said Loran Smith, the longtime Georgia reporter to whom Munson so often tossed down sideline update with a “whatcha got, Loran?”
“Vince’s teams were so competitive and always came back, so Lady Luck was Larry’s companion, good or bad,” Smith said. “And Lady Luck’s smiles had a lot to do with the outcome of those games.
“And no matter what seemed to happen, Larry always rose to the occasion.”