Behind the Stats: Larry Munson was one of a kind

College athletics has lost one of its most legendary announcers. Larry Munson, the long-time radio voice of all things Georgia Bulldogs and, before that, Vanderbilt Commodores, died Sunday night after a bout with pneumonia. He was 89.

Munson was as beloved by Georgia fans as anyone else who walked between the hedges. His style, simply put, was that of an A-1 “homer.” Sure, he bled Vandy black and gold for several years, but since the mid 1960s, it’s been all Georgia red and black.  There wasn’t any gray in a Munson broadcast. It was “we” and “they.” And, it didn’t take long after turning on a game to figure out if his team was playing well. He lived and died with each play. Frankly, instead of many cookie-cutter broadcasters today, Munson conveyed exactly what the fans felt.

Breaking into broadcasting while at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., I heard all about Munson and his unmistakable style. And the first time I heard him on the radio, I knew immediately that it was Larry Munson and the Georgia Bulldogs.

I got to know Munson during the 1990s, while working on my second book, “The Sportscaster’s Dozen: Off the air with Southeastern Legends.” The book featured firsthand stories from 12 “legendary” broadcasters from the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conferences.

Of course, Larry Munson was one of the dozen who agreed to be featured, giving me and, eventually, the book’s readers, a behind-the-scenes look at his career — the highlights, low lights, and everything in between.

Away from the microphone, Munson was a man’s man. He enjoyed hunting and fishing, cigars, jazz, movies, and so on. When broadcasting, he was one of a kind.

As I wrote it in “The Sportscaster’s Dozen,” radio play-by-play is a wonderful art form. Frank Lloyd Wright said that “television is chewing gum for the eyes.” That said, radio must be chewing gum for the mind, for the imagination, with a good announcer providing the flavor.

For Georgia and Vanderbilt fans, Larry Munson provided that flavor better than salt, pepper, oregano or paprika ever could.

But, Munson was so much more than only the “voice” of Vanderbilt and Georgia. He was one of the pioneers of a weekly fishing show on television. He called professional baseball games, first with a minor-league team in Nashville, and then with the Atlanta Braves. He was the “voice” of the Atlanta Falcons.

So, although you can read countless Larry Munson stories right now, please indulge me for a few minutes as I share two of my favorite Larry Munson stories from “The Sportscaster’s Dozen.”

The late Curt Gowdy, with whom Munson worked in Wyoming, helped Munson land a job in Nashville with Vanderbilt and the Nashville Vols, a minor-league baseball team, after World War II. (While in Wyoming, Munson had seriously considered becoming a jazz pianist, but Gowdy convinced him to stick with broadcasting.) At that time, it was common for broadcasts to be re-creations. (Basically, as you might remember from “Bull Durham,” for instance, in a re-creation, the announcer would receive a note on the Western Union wire, with brief notes about a play. The announcer then would make a sound effect and describe the play as if he was sitting in the stadium.)

Munson was known in broadcasting circles as being sensational at re-creating games. He had proof, too.

When he arrived in Nashville at WKDA radio in 1947, he talked the executives into carrying pro football “out of Chicago.” At that time, there were two teams in Chicago, the Cardinals and the Bears. So, there was a home game every week.

There was a permanent Western Union line up there that enabled us to do games every single Sunday.  That worked for two years. … It was fun because I could get on a jammed elevator leading up to WKDA on Monday, not saying a word to anybody, and the people would be talking about hearing that announcer talking about how hard it was snowing in Chicago the day before with the guys sliding on the ice when they went out of bounds.  It was difficult keeping a straight face knowing they didn’t realize it was me with sound effects sitting upstairs of that building.

Oddly enough, I thought about the second story on Saturday when ESPN’s Lee Corso dropped the F-bomb on TV. Larry Munson’s moment, much like Munson himself, is legendary in Nashville, especially with old timers, if you will. Like many stories of its nature, there are variations of the truth. John Forney, the late Alabama broadcaster, told me his version for “The Sportscaster’s Dozen.” (Munson told me his version 50 years later, but brushed it off, so we didn’t put it in his chapter.)

As the story goes, the Nashville Vols were playing either Little Rock or New Orleans in a wretched, blow out of a game. During the late innings, as Munson thought he sent the game to a commercial break, he said, “What a freaking way to make a living.” Only, the guy in the studio had fallen asleep and hadn’t started any commercials, so Munson’s microphone was still on. That might not seem terrible, except Munson said a different “f” word instead of freaking. That wouldn’t go over well anywhere, but especially not in the buckle of the Bible belt.

The next inning, someone brought a message to Munson. It was from his boss. It read: “Dear Larry: It sure is, but you don’t have to tell everyone.”

Whether you are a Yellow Jacket or a Volunteer or a Gamecock or a Gator, you know that Larry Munson was one of a kind. There never will be another like him. He will be missed by anyone who ever had a chance to get to know him.

If you have a favorite Larry Munson memory, feel free to leave it in the comments section. For more about Matt Fulks, please visit www.MattFulks.com.

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