Dawgs fans remember Munson: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!’

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Larry Munson, seen here near the end of his Dawgs announcing career in 2007, belongs on UGA’s Mount Rushmore, according to the Bulldogs radio network’s Jeff Dantzler

For Dawgs fans, listening to radio replays of Georgia football games the past couple of Saturdays has been an enjoyable and nostalgic trip back to the days when the late, great Larry Munson was handling the play-by-play calls.

No offense to Scott Howard, or anyone else who ever mans a microphone for UGA football games, but, in the hearts and minds of the Bulldog Nation, there’ll never be anyone who approaches the status of Munson.

Radio play-by-play man Munson was unparalleled at drawing fans into the action. (University of Georgia)

As coaches and players came and went, the one-of-a-kind broadcast legend was the constant in Georgia football for more than four decades, and he became one of the most beloved figures ever at UGA.

That’s because Munson was unparalleled at drawing fans into the action. A confirmed pessimist, Munson could make even a cakewalk seem sound like a tense, down-to-the-wire thriller.

And, when the game really was close, no one was Munson’s equal at conjuring the tension and passion that his listeners were feeling — and doing so with the sort of colorful turn of phrase that burned his calls into Bulldogs fandom’s collective memory.

The Minnesota-born announcer, who called Georgia games on the Bulldogs radio network from 1966 to 2008, didn’t just describe the action and set the scene; he created an audio drama, and did so in a quirky manner that was both instantly identifiable and unforgettable. He also unashamedly was a fan, referring to the Dawgs as “we” during games.

Although Munson eventually became a Dawgs icon nearly on parallel level with Herschel Walker — just listen to the crowd response during Munson’s posthumous voiceover that still introduces each home game — it really was a rather slow-burn romance between announcer and fan base, initially.

I remember when Munson, who’d spent a season as part of the newly arrived Braves’ original broadcast team, first took over from Ed Thilenius as the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs. 

Even as a ninth grader, I already was a Dawgs traditionalist, and, like many fans, I found that the gravelly, staccato bark of Munson took some getting used to after the smooth, mellow tones of Thilenius.

I didn’t dislike Munson. In fact, I felt he’d been wronged when he got crowded out of the Braves booth by the tremendous ego of Milo Hamilton. Still, I remember feeling that Munson came across on his early UGA broadcasts as something of an outsider. 

For some reason, I recall the moment when Munson won me over, and I finally considered him one of “us.” It was the 1968 game matching No. 5 Georgia with No. 12 Auburn for the SEC Championship. It wasn’t so much any specific call or turn of phrase; he just sounded so into the game, like it really mattered to him whether the Bulldogs won. From that time on, Munson was the man, as far as I was concerned.

By the late ’70s, fans already had started quoting his calls, including the 1973 game-winning play against the Vols: “Georgia’s got a first down on the Tennessee 26, the stadium rocking, the stadium can’t believe it. … Georgia is 8 and a half yards away, minute 17, minute 16, minute 15, second down on the 8 and a half. Andy’s gonna take it, give it to Harrison …  Faked it! Andy Johnson! Touchdown Andy Johnson! Touchdown Andy Johnson! … My God, Georgia beat Tennessee in Knoxville.”  

Also, the famed call of the Richard Appleby-to-Gene Washington pass from the 1975 Florida game: “Appleby, end around, he just stopped, planted his feet and threw it, and Washington caught it thinking of Montreal and the Olympics, and ran out of his shoes right down the middle, 80 yards. Stadium rocking, stunned, the girders are bending now…”

And, the 1978 call of a late Rex Robinson field goal that beat the Kentucky Wildcats, which was notable for the fact he never actually said the kick was good: “16 to 14, Kentucky, with 8 seconds! The stadium’s standing. Naw, some of ’em are upside down, but they’re trying to stand. It’s gonna be held just inside the 19. It’s set down, he puts it up, it looks good, watch it, watch it … yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! He kicked the whatchamacallit out of it!” 

“Oh, you Herschel Walker!” Munson’s call of Walker’s touchdown run against Tennessee in 1980 is one for the ages. (University of Georgia)

However, the Munson phenomenon really took off during the 1980 national championship season, starting with the season-opening win in Knoxville: “Tennessee leading 15 to 2, the crowd roaring against Georgia trying to make them drop it so they can’t hear. We hand it off to Herschel, there’s a hole, 5, 10, 12, he’s running over people! Oh, you Herschel Walker! My God almighty, he ran right through two men, Herschel ran right over two men, they had him dead away inside the 9. Herschel Walker went 16 yards, he drove right over those orange shirts, just driving and running with those big thighs. My God, a freshman!” (Munson later recalled that WSB Radio got complaints about his language on that one.)

And then, later that season, came Munson’s immortal call of the desperation pass from Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott to beat Florida and catapult Georgia to No. 1 in the standings: “Lindsay Scott 35, 40. Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40. Run Lindsay! Twenty-five, 20, 15, 10, 5. Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! … 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 5-inch cushion … Do you know what is gonna happen here tonight? And up at St. Simons and Jekyll Island and all those places where all those Dawg people have got those condominiums for four days? MAN, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight!” (You’ll note that he does not say the oft-misquoted, “Run, Lindsay, run!”)

From there, the Munson classics just kept piling up, and, soon, just about every devout Dawgs fan owned an audio or video compilation of Munson’s greatest hits.

That definitely included the extended sequence late in the 1982 game against Auburn that secured another SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl berth for the Dawgs, where he begged the defense to hold on with “I hate to keep saying it, but hunker down! If you didn’t hear me you guys, hunker down! … I know I’m asking a lot, you guys, but hunker it down one more time!” and then, as the final seconds ticked off the clock: “23, 22, 21, clock running, running … Oh, Look at the sugar falling out of the sky! Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!”

And, of course, there was the call of Kevin Butler’s 60-yard field goal to break a tie with Clemson at Sanford Stadium in 1984: “So, we’ll try to kick one 100,000 miles, we’re holding it on our own 49 and a half, gonna try to kick 60 yards plus a foot and a half, and Butler kicks a long one, Butler kicks a long one … Oh my God! Oh My God! … The stadium is worse than bonkers. Eleven seconds … I can’t believe what he did. This is ungodly!” 

Perhaps Munson’s most famous call involved Georgia fullback Verron Haynes and a “hobnailed boot.” (AJC file)

Still, perhaps Munson’s most memorable call ever is from the 2001 game against Tennessee in Knoxville, when David Greene threw to Verron Haynes in the back of the orange-and-white checkerboard end zone to secure the win: “Touchdown! My God, a touchdown! We threw it to Haynes! We just stuffed them with 5 seconds left! My God Almighty, did you see what he did? David Greene just straightened up and we snuck the fullback over! … we just stepped on their face with a hobnailed boot and broke their nose! We just crushed their face!”

Who knows where he came up with that hobnailed boot image, but it was quintessentially Munson, and the beloved announcer at his colorful best.

While Munson had been based in Nashville during his early years calling Georgia football, he eventually moved to Athens, where he became something of a local legend, and a familiar sight. I remember after one game, probably in the late ’90s, when my brothers and I were walking back to our car with our Dad, and we spotted Munson, who would have been in his late 70s by then, walking very quickly up ahead of us. “Larrrrrry!” brother Tim yelled, and Munson simply raised his hand in recognition without ever breaking stride, chugging on up the Lumpkin Street hill.

By the time various ailments ended his Georgia announcing career, Munson had become an icon even outside the Bulldog Nation. All it would take was a mention of Georgia for an ESPN host to drop into a growl to imitate the great one.

With WSB Radio and Georgiadogs.com filling the sports vacuum on Saturday afternoons this month with those Dawgs football replays, we’ve once again been able to experience Munson, though the rather odd selection of games they’ve been airing curiously has not included any that produced the calls mentioned here (which Munson himself listed as his favorites before his death at age 89 in 2011).

Munson became so popular with UGA fans that there even was a bobblehead doll of him. (Chip Towers/AJC)

Still, even in the replay of a relatively unmemorable game, like the 1987 win over Georgia Tech, there were satisfying moments of Larry being Larry. As he called a Dawgs score, saying the receiver “made it by 8 inches,” Tim texted me: “’Made it by 8 inches.’ Classic Munson.” As a friend noted: “He made even a lackluster game seem special.”

With Munson back on the radio, I asked a number of UGA fans this week to tell me their favorite of his calls, figuring that the “hobnailed boot” call or “Run, Lindsay!” would be the favorite. However, the majority of folks joined veteran Atlanta sportscaster and UGA grad Bill Hartman in citing the “hunker down/sugar falling out of the sky” bit as their overall favorite.

As Jeff Dantzler, now part of the UGA game day broadcast crew put it: “Auburn ’82 is my favorite.  No TV. Thank God. 9-0 Georgia vs 7-2 Auburn. Herschel vs. Bo. Everything on the line. Hunker down, you guys. My dad counted, and I paced well over 100 times from the den through the foyer, through the living room through the foyer through the den … as Munson begged the Dawgs to hunker down one more time. It was magical. He pulled us through. Munson’s genuine passion and love for the Dawgs. He was such an incredible announcer. Nobody could set the scene like the Mighty Munson. … So descriptive. When we won, all of us were so joyous. And exhausted. I love Larry Munson, the greatest college football announcer ever, who rests on the Bulldogs’ Mount Rushmore.”

My friend Kevin Whaley agrees, savoring Munson’s entire call of the final four plays of that game. “I still enjoy listening to that one,” he said. “So dramatic.”

But, like I said earlier, highlighting the drama in a game was Munson’s specialty. After running through a half dozen or so of his favorite calls, my buddy Joel Provano concluded: “It’s just too bad Munson wasn’t around to call the Rose Bowl. Can you imagine?”

Yeah, there’s no doubt that a Munson call of Sony Michel’s last TD in double OT to send the Dawgs to the national championship would have been another classic!

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