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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Tue, 09/23/2008 - 6:34am.
Once upon a time in a media galaxy far, far away, sports teams were as identified by the men who called the games on radio as the men who played them. But with countless games televised from coast to coast each and every day now, those hometown microphones have lost some of their significance.
Baseball perhaps has leant itself to this genre of radio better than any other sport. What would the national pastime have been over the years without the voices of Red Barber and Mel Allen in New York, Harry Caray in St. Louis and Chicago or Ernie Harwell in Detroit? So few of the greats remain. Vin Scully has been calling Dodgers games since they played in Brooklyn, but he's scaled back his duties. I spent many nights of my youth in South Carolina tuning in a Philadelphia radio station to hear a few innings of Harry Kalas on Phillies broadcasts. I fear the day when Kalas won't be there to tell fans a Phillies home run is "Outta here!" The broadcasting brethren lost another of my favorites just a few weeks ago when Braves broadcaster Skip Caray died.
College football, especially in the south, also has a long tradition of iconic announcers. Many of you have probably listened to Woody Durham call North Carolina games for years. Saturday afternoons of my youth were spent listening to Bob Fulton call South Carolina football games. I'll never forget him describing the teams' uniforms as they entered the field or his three-syllable pronounciation of sophomore. But Fulton's been retired for years, and his successors have paled in his shadow.
Fortunately, when I was getting ready for college, I found another great voice at the University of Georgia. I will admit when I first heard Larry Munson call a game, I was not a fan. Of course, that's most likely because I was not yet a UGA fan, and did not appreciate his use of "we" and "us" as he described the action on the field. But once your blood flows red and black, the soundtrack of your life borrows Munson's gravelly baritone. He may not have the voice of God (that belonged to Philadelphia newscaster John Facenda, who, while knowing or caring little about football, was the voice of NFL Films for years), but he certainly is the voice of Dogs everywhere.
Monday night, though, Munson announced his retirement. Health problems forced him to cut back on roadtrips with the Bulldogs last season, but he was back in the booth for Georgia's first two games at home this year. We all knew the end was coming, but the sudden announcement comes as a jolt to Bulldog Nation.
I can't think of another broadcaster so inherently iconic for his school. Munson has long been the narrator of a rousing pre-game video montage at Georgia games. Recordings of his calls have fueled a cottage industry built on several volumes of videos, DVDs and CDs packed with Munson classics. And boy, have there been a lot.
Regardless of when you jumped on the Georgia bandwagon, you know well Munson claiming sugar was falling out of the sky as the Dawgs clinched a Sugar Bowl berth in the early '80s or him giving "Old Lady Luck" the credit for a victory over rival Auburn or "Oh, you Herschel Walker" running over people. In recent years he's described how in a late win at Georgia Tech, "We ripped their hearts out and stomped on them." At the end of an incredible game at Tennessee in 2000, he described a last-minute Georgia touchdown by saying, "We just stepped on their face with a hob-nailed boot and broke their nose! We just crushed their face!"
College football fans know well the call by Cal's Joe Starkey in 1982 as a series of laterals led to a final-second touchdown at Stanford as "the band is out on the field!" But could any college call ever compare with Munson's imploring Georgia received to "run, Lindsay!" to a decisive score against Florida? Munson was so excited that after a long silence, he told listeners that he'd broken his chair and the stadium had fallen down. "Do you know what's going to happen here and up at St. Simon's and Jekyll Island and all those places where all those Dawg people have got those condominiums for four days," Munson asked. "Man, is there going to be some property destroyed tonight."
Munson wore his Bulldog heart proudly on his sleeve, as evidenced by his frequent use of first-person pronouns, equally sharing in glory and shouldering failures. You think you yell at the players through your TV or from your seat in the stadium? You shoulda heard Larry. In a 1982 game against Auburn, Georgia fans are sure he willed the defense in a final stand, as he asked again and again for them to "hunker down!" The phrase is on stickers, T-shirts and other items in Athens. And then there is perhaps the greatest tribute to Munson and his calls, specifically that one. I found it one day while waiting for the elevator at UGA's athletics department, where the two buttons riders can choose are labeled "Hunker Up" and "Hunker Down".
We loyal fans will have to hunker down for what we hope will be a great season without our favorite narrator. We wish you well, Larry Munson. Now sit back and watch the tributes and honors falling out of the sky.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo