Friday, October 9, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:50 AM, under Book Reviews, Larry Munson, Tony Barnhart
Besides college football, University of Georgia radio play-by-play legend Larry Munson has a few other passions. Included in these are music and movies. And when it came to movies, he was not hesitant to offer an opinion. When Casino Royale came out with Daniel Craig, he had absolutely nothing good to say about the movie. He hated Craig in the role, and he hated the music. "It didn't sound like James Bond music," he told me in the press box one Saturday. But without knowing anything about the man behind the microphone, there was no real context for his antipathy towards the movie.
It was not until I sat in a bookstore one evening reading through his new autobiography, From Herschel to a Hob-nail Boot: The Life and Times of Larry Munson (Larry Munson with Tony Barnhart, 2009, Triumph Books, 167 pages, ISBN 978-1-60078-288-6), that the between the lines reason came to light, at least in this readers mind. It turns out that Sean Connery was the only person who could play Bond for Munson, and Sean Connery was the reason why he hesitated, even refused, over the years to want to put his life story on paper.
For the legions of University of Georgia Bulldog faithful, Munson is THE man they want to hear on the radio on game day. Many, if not most, will turn on the TV to watch the game, but mute the volume so they could listen to Munson call the game. It did not matter if the TV signal was a little bit out of sync, they wanted to hear Munson's voice make the call.
The Quiet Man?:University of Georgia Radio Legend Larry Munson, pictured here before the 2007 UGA Homecoming Parade, has opened up about himself in his new autobiography From Herschel to a Hobnail Boot: The Life and Times of Larry Munson
For those who have not heard Munson call a game, he is definitely an acquired taste that settles in better with time. There is a distinct way he approaches life and the call of the game that is hard to explain unless you have heard his voice. But Tony Barnhart, formerly of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and now host of the Tony Barnhart Show on CBS College Sports, has done a remarkable job of putting Munson's words down on paper in a way that you can actually hear his voice saying the words as you read them. The choice of words, and the way they are delivered, are pure Munson.
For the past few years, I watched Munson's health decline as he continued to call games from Sanford Stadium. I often wondered about Munson the person, the man behind the persona and voice. There were always the familiar stories bandied about about his past, stories like the fact that he played with Tommy Dorsey while still a teenager. But I had never heard the part of the story that the young man singing with Tommy Dorsey was Francis Albert Sinatra.
So as you read the book, you learn more and more about Munson. You learn about his growing up, his love for going to the movies with his sister, and the wonder of what he could have done musically if he had stuck with it. You learn about how his inability to smell got him one of the worst possible assignments in the Army during World War II. You learn how painfully hard a decision it was for him to retire from the broadcast booth.
But you also learn about a darker side of Munson, a side which shows how bitterness, anger, and resentment can still linger in a man's heart many years after a perceived wrong. This is a side of Munson you never heard on the radio, or read about in the newspapers. And it is an important element of what molds and shapes a man as life goes on.
For Georgia Bulldog fans, this book is a must read and a must have in their library. Even if they can no longer hear him on the radio, they can hear his voice in the written word. As a bonus, they can listen to a CD of his "10 Greatest Calls" that is included in the book.
Non-Georgia football fans probably will not take the same appreciation from the book. But they can read and appreciate a story of a man from a by-gone era, an era of longevity and loyalty in the radio booth that will probably never be duplicated again, except for the fact that college football will never make it on TV. It is a sport made for radio. You will have to read the book to understand this last line.
From Herschel to a Hobnail Boot: The Life and Times of Larry Munson