The thing about reading a book on someone who is famous for words or music (or both) is that you wonder whether a book alone can do the subject justice. I once read a book about Mick Jagger and I almost expected to hear an outrageous version of “Sympathy for the Devil” when I opened the front cover.
But after reading “From Herschel To A Hobnail Boot,” a biography/memoir of legendary Georgia Bulldogs announcer Larry Munson, I could almost hear echoes of those memorable calls and that gravelly voice. It was double fun when Munson and co-author Tony Barnhart (ajc.com blogger and CBS-TV commentator) included a CD of Munson’s greatest calls with the book. At last, something to listen to besides Miley’s climb and that Black Eyed Peas song.
Munson, who retired in 2008 after 43 years of calling Bulldogs games, is as memorable as it gets. (Disclosure: I’m a UGA alum and classmate of co-author Barnhart.) Emotion is a critical part of college football, and it’s probably more intense in the South than anywhere. Hey, they also get serious over the sport in Southern California (where I lived for 22 years), but when the game’s over there, you can go to the beach or Disneyland. In the South, fans may leave the stadium, but they take a part of the game home with them.
Among the interesting things about the Munson book were the big names he rubbed elbows with in his early days, and the travails he had in some non-Bulldog endeavors. For instance, he toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra as a piano player when that group had a young singer who went on to movie stardom. And Munson’s first broadcasting job was in Wyoming, where he replaced someone who went on to become a national TV fixture calling major league baseball. (Hey, movie reviewers don’t give away the finish.)
But everyone has struggles, and so did Munson, a Minnesota native who used World War II discharge money to go to broadcasting school. He describes being forced out of his Atlanta Braves job by lead announcer Milo Hamilton, and Munson also had some run-ins with Jerry Glanville when Munson took on radio duties with the Atlanta Falcons.
College football, obviously, was the perfect fit. As a UGA student, I remember being in the Gator Bowl stands in 1975 for the memorable Appleby-to-Washington pass. Back in Athens the next week, longtime UGA sports publicist Claude Felton replayed Munson’s call of the play, and I was so taken by the excitement that I repeatedly listened to it all week. I was hooked on Munson from then on.
Munson showed that connections matter. He landed the UGA gig in 1966 because he knew AD Joel Eaves, a former Auburn basketball coach, from Munson’s days as Vanderbilt basketball announcer in Nashville, Tenn. And he hit UGA at a good time, as Georgia won SEC titles in ’66 and ’68, giving him additional excitement to create for fans.
Now, though, he’s gone from the airwaves. And I can’t help but feel an era is ending for all such announcers, radio and TV. Also done are people such as Ernie Harwell, Jack Buck, Cawood Ledford. Only Vin Scully, now 81 and who has been calling LA Dodgers baseball since the Brooklyn years, remains from the old school genre that was identified with one team, and began on radio. With so much college football on television now, and live streaming on the Internet, radio is less of a factor.
“Guys like us, we’re like an old shoe,” Harwell once said. Munson agreed in his book, noting how much more of a business broadcasting has become.
Still, when I or almost anyone else watches a Bulldogs game or listens on radio, we’ll always imagine how Larry Munson would have called the action. And we’ll still have the book and CD.