A fall visit with Larry Munson

[Editor’s note: Larry Munson died Sunday, Nov. 19. The following is a column written last month by Munson’s long-time sideline sidekick, Loran Smith.]

It was the first cold day of the fall, and I could have predicted Larry Munson’s opening comment. “Be a good day for pheasant hunting, wouldn’t it!” he remarked as we sat and talked with former Georgia receiver, Charley Whittemore — by the fire in Larry’s den.

For most of his life, when the long-time Bulldog announcer wasn’t talking football or movies, he was given to pontificating about hunting and fishing, particularly the latter.

“I miss it,” he said about fishing which reminded me of a conversation with Ted Williams late in his life. The Splendid Splinter had experienced a series of light strokes which impaired his mobility, which meant that his greatest passion outside the batter’s box would never be enjoyed again.

“It hurts like hell that I can’t fish anymore,” Williams said. It was sad, knowing that just talking about his deep love of fishing and not being able to pick up a rod and reel anymore, was painful. You could see it in his eyes as he talked. In a brief span of seconds, there was penetrating silence. I could imagine that, in his mind’s eye, he was recalling the times when he reeled in a big fish.

Munson seemed interested in talking fishing. “Have you been anywhere lately? How did you do?” When I explained that I had caught several trout late Monday afternoon on the Chattahoochee, near Helen, he nodded softly but remained quiet in thought. My guess is that he, like Ted Williams, was reflecting on his past when he was netting a keeper.

We talked about the Vanderbilt game. “I didn’t like some of the stuff I saw out there, we almost gave it away,” Munson said. “You think we are gonna beat Florida? Is this our year?”

Larry doesn’t get out much any more, but he is alert and inquisitive about the Bulldogs. He wonders if Georgia’s special teams are going to improve. “If we win out,” Whittemore asked Larry, “do you think we can beat the winner of the Alabama-LSU game?” After that, it was vintage Munson. He began to lament problems that Georgia has and looked at Whittemore like he had lost his mind.

We reminisced about the past. We told him how much he was missed by the Bulldog nation which evoked a soft smile. He didn’t say so, but it was evident that he appreciates being remembered.

The visit was sobering. Age robs us all of our suppleness. It brings about pain — not just the physical, but the awareness that we can’t spring from our recliner and take a two-mile walk around the neighborhood. We can’t stand in the river and fly cast upstream and watch a tiny fly follow the current of the river until a three-pound trout sucks it down and rewards us with one of the most refreshing experiences there is.

No longer can the outdoor-loving native of Minnesota enjoy those outings. No longer can he sit on the edge of his seat in the radio booth and thrill us with unforgettable phrases. “Run Lindsay run.” “Look at the Sugar falling from the sky.” “We just stepped on their face with a hob nail boot and crushed their nose.” That voice, with strength and verve, delivering commentary that thrilled thousands, not just those in red and black, is soft and retreating now. But his eyes twinkle when he remembers the past. He still enjoys a funny story.

We closed out our visit with a vignette that made him chuckle. It had to do with Little Jimmy Dickens whom I visited with back stage last weekend in Nashville. Still performing at 90, Little Jimmy, an old friend of Larry’s, told of visiting a doctor to check on his hearing loss.

The doctor took a look and exclaimed, “No wonder you can’t hear, there is a suppository in here.”

To which Little Jimmy replied, “Now doc, I know where I put my hearing aid.”

Larry laughed generously at the story. I hope it made his day. It made mine to sit and talk with him.

[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs — and teamed up with Larry Munson — Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]