Monday, November 21, 2011

Goodbye to the "Hobnail Boot"

When I was in my early and mid-teens, my dad and I spent most every Saturday during the winter months cutting trees on our farm and clearing land for more pasture. We hauled most of what we cut off one truck load at a time, selling it for pulp wood. During the infrequent rest periods when dad had to re-sharpen his chain saws or we took a water break, he let me turn on the fiddly radio in the truck and I got to listen to the Georgia Bulldogs play football. It was my first contact with the legendary Larry Munson.

At that time, Munson had already been announcing Georgia football for about ten years. His distinctive style of delivery, his sense of excitement and attention to detail, his willingness to get inside the Georgia fan’s head and seem to express exactly what everyone was thinking at a given point in a given game, made him incomparable to me.

Whenever I got a chance to watch a Georgia game on TV, I always turned the sound down (as did most other Georgia football fans) and listened to Larry Munson announce the game on the radio. It just didn’t feel like the game had started until Munson barked out “Alright, get the picture…”

Munson died last night at age 89. I had listened to him as recently as his last broadcast year when his eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer announce a play until after the crowd had already reacted to it. Even though the voice was still there, it was time for him to retire and he knew it.

You can find Larry Munson all over the internet. All his greatest calls are available both online and on DVD. In fact, as the college football season started this year I played his great “Lindsey Scott!” call for Jennifer, who is a Georgia Tech graduate. She didn’t particularly care for the nature of the call but she could appreciate the extras Munson added after the play was over. “Man, is there going to be some property destroyed tonight!”

Larry always had something to add to an exciting situation. How 'bout "We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!" Or... "My god almighty he ran right through two men!" Or... "We saved ourselves! No we didn't, Old Lady Luck saved us!" Or... "So, we'll try to kick one 100,000 miles..." You can see youtube tributes here and here.

Larry's style went beyond the actual fact of the great play and placed it in a higher football context. It was a declaration of the significance of the play and what it would mean to football fans after the game. For Munson, especially in his prime, it was always about verbally capturing the essence of moments throughout a game and placing them in the context of the spirit of the entire football season. That is why Munson always seemed to get better to listen to as each season rolled along. Even during the years Georgia didn’t play so well.

I only met Larry Munson twice and he never saw me either time, as they were both public events. The first was during the UGA homecoming parade in 1977, when I was a freshman. He was sitting on the back of large luxury convertible with a simple PBR in his hand, smiling, waving.

The second time was in 1981 when they decided to enclose the eastern end of Sanford stadium. This would completely block “the tracks”, a traditional gathering place for football fans to party and watch the game. You could see the entire field except for the last ten yards of the east end zone. Before the last game ever viewable from the tracks, Munson came over and visited with the large crowd of several hundred students there. He never particularly cared for the fact the tracks offered the game to “freeloaders” but he could respect the off-beat tradition of the thing. This particular farewell was the first of many changes coming to the Georgia football program.

At any rate, I continued to listen to Georgia football games through my life, always in anticipation of how Munson would call the plays and what he might say next. But, with his retirement, football on the radio has become a thing of the past for me.

Now, Munson himself is a thing of the past. He was a unique voice in sports. As unique as Skip Caray, another broadcaster I admired that is no longer with us. With his passing the era of imagining how it all looks in your head while only being able to listen to it on the radio grows more distant. In today’s cable and pay-per-view reality, you can see everything in high-definition and super slow-motion, but you can’t be a kid again picturing it all in your mind the way Larry encouraged you to at the beginning of his every broadcast.

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