ATHENS, Ga. — Michael Munson confirmed what you probably already guessed: His father died with a Georgia T-shirt on that said “Go Dogs!”
“A true Bulldog to the core,” said Greg McGarity, Georgia’s director of athletics, during Saturday’s public memorial service for Larry Munson, the longtime beloved voice of the Bulldogs
Along with the Redcoat band strains of Amazing Grace, Georgia On My Mind, the Battle Hymn of Bulldog Nation, taps and a 21-gun salute by the Fort Gordon honor guard, Munson was remembered by friends, family and Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
The large American flag in the northwest corner flew at half-staff while the video scoreboard played familiar highlights of Munson’s four decades behind the microphone. About 2,000 people showed up for the service in the stadium where he was a fixture in the play-by-play booth for 42 years. A painted tribute – LARRY MUNSON, 1922-2011 – straddled the 50-yard line between the hedges.
“We honor Larry Munson and the blessing that he was to Bulldog Nation, his family and America,” Georgia football coach Mark Richt said during the invocation. “He was the best ever.”
It has been three weeks since Munson passed away at age 89, but with his Bulldogs facing rival Georgia Tech and the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the memorial was postponed until after the football team had a Saturday off.
A crisp December afternoon greeted the well-wishers and invited guests.
“Boy, Munson would’ve loved this day. He’d say, ‘Let’s go fishing,’ ” said Tony Barnhart, a sportswriter from Greensboro, Ga., who wrote the book on Munson. “He would have wondered what all the fuss was about.”
The fuss was about a man who became as synonymous with Bulldogs football as the heroes on the field he spoke about.
“For those of us who grew up in Georgia … Larry was literally the soundtrack of our lives,” said Barnhart.
Ten speakers told stories during the service that went deeper than the famous “Hobnailed boot” and “Run, Lindsay” calls that have been memorized by generations of Georgia fans. Beyond the gravelly voice, Munson was a World War II veteran, musician, outdoorsman, movie and book enthusiast, and science fiction fan.
Former Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley said Munson fished like he called football games.
“Hunker down, worm, one more time,” he said.
Dooley said he knew Munson was the right guy for the Georgia job in 1966, when he heard him call a Vanderbilt game.
“Oh my god, the SOB missed it,” Munson said on the air. “Then he turned to the Vandy color man and said, ‘Scott, you can’t talk like that. We’re on the air.’ Anybody who could think that fast, we wanted him.”
Munson’s famous on-air angst and unabashed homer stance came about honestly.
“I pulled my insides out trying to win,” Munson said in a video tribute.
Dooley added: “The word Munson in the dictionary will be defined as a pessimist. Only guy in the world that made me look like an optimist.”
Munson did it all so naturally and brilliantly that Georgia fans as well as former President Reagan would turn off the volume on the their televisions and listen to his inimitable narration of the events.
“Be thankful we lived in the time when we could listen to Larry paint the picture,” said McGarity, an Athens native and Georgia alumnus.
He was such a respected giant in the medium that even Wes Durham, the voice of rival Georgia Tech, was invited to give a video tribute to the Bulldogs.
“I’m grateful to have been able to call him a friend,” said Durham, who accepted a Hall of Fame award on Munson’s behalf when the honoree was too ill to attend the presentation.
“Our charge is to make sure that future generations remember him.”
That shouldn’t be too hard considering how many fans can recite chapter and verse of Munson’s most heralded calls.
He heard countless impersonations and reenactments through the years.
“I must sound like a wounded bull,” Munson said. “I’ve never heard so much gravel in people’s voices in all my life.”
Munson’s two sons spoke at Saturday’s service. Jonathan Munson, an ordained minister, said he has been constantly asked through the years, “What was it like to be Larry Munson’s son?”
“He really wasn’t that different,” he said. “One of his greatest strengths in broadcasting was his authenticity. He was the same person off-air as he was on-air.”
Jonathan Munson recalled taking his father to see his new house in Birmingham, Ala., on the eve of the Bulldogs’ playing at Alabama. When he had to slam on the brakes to avoid a car that swerved in front of them, Munson was quick with the call from the passenger seat: “Don’t kill me. I’m famous.”
His son Michael Munson said the toughest thing about the past three weeks since their father died was not speaking to him on the phone every day.
“It’s very hard not to be able to call your dad, especially after a Georgia game,” he said.
There were few tears shed for a man who lived his 89 years to the fullest.
Former Bulldogs player, coach and administrator Charley Whittemore expressed the sentiments for his dear friend that spoke for many who knew only the voice.
“Ain’t gonna cry because it’s over, but I’m gonna smile because it happened,” Whittemore said.
The last words, of course, should belong to Larry Munson himself: “I hope Bulldog fans remember I was always looking out for them,” he said. “Whenever they see the red and black run on the field, I hope they know a part of me is out there, too.”