By Tom Mattingly
Life as we know it has taken a number of interesting turns.
Venues such as the Orange Bowl in Miami, Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the old Yankee Stadium and Comiskey Park, and Tiger Stadium in Detroit are now consigned to history. Only videotape and the power of memory are keeping them alive.
Closer to home and of equal or greater importance, Larry Munson (1922-2011) and John Ward (1930-2018) no longer broadcast the Georgia and Tennessee football games. The duos were front and center in a recent SEC Network feature on league announcers.
“While Cawood Ledford was my closest friend in the business,” Ward said, “Larry Munson was right there, too. His strength was that he could visualize the game for the listener. He was a very good broadcaster, with his own technique.”
Ward could make the standard broadcast disclaimer (“This broadcast is authorized under broadcast rights granted by the University of Tennessee through the Vol Network, solely for the entertainment of our listening audience….”) into a work of art. Don’t remember hearing Munson utter those famous words. Someone did, probably not Larry.
Munson’s rambling monologues, laced with liberal use of the word “we,” seemed to go on forever, never finding a period.
Ward possessed a keen sense of anticipation as each play unfolded, with few wasted words.
Both men painted the word picture in different ways, and their fans loved them. Ward disdained the use of the word “we,” as applied to Tennessee, but the excitement and passion were still there as the critical moments of the game unfolded.
For his part, Munson never did decipher the difference between Vol running backs Don McLeary and Curt Watson in the 1969 game at Athens, telling of “Tennessee going toward the book store, just handing the ball off to that big running back.” There was also his “hob-nail boot” comment at the end of the 2001 game that still rankles Vol partisans.
However, Jauan Jennings’ leaping catch of a 43-yard “Hail Mary” from Josh Dobbs gave Tennessee a 34-31 win at Athens in 2016. The “Dobbs-nail boot,” as it was termed by several Tennessee media, seemed to have evened the accounts.
In November 1980, Georgia trailed Florida 21-20 late in the event formerly known as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Things looked bleak as the Bulldogs lined up in the shadow of the Gator Bowl’s north end zone. It was third-and-11.
The south end zone looked miles away but was actually a mere 92 yards. Getting in field goal range seemed a tall order. Florida players and fans were in victory mode. Georgia’s run to the SEC title and national championship seemed to be in jeopardy.
For its part, Georgia wanted no part of losing. Munson’s often grating voice was in full flower as the Bulldogs came to the line of scrimmage.
“It will take a miracle now… Do the Dogs have it?… Florida in a stand-up five… They may or may not blitz… Buck back… In trouble… Gonna throw on the run… Complete to the 25… to the 30… LINDSAY SCOTT… 35… 40… 45… 50… 45… 40… RUN LINDSAY… 25… 20… 15… 10… 5… LINDSAY SCOTT!… LINDSAY SCOTT!… LINDSAY SCOTT!”
It was a wonderful moment unless you were rooting for the Gators.
For one of Ward’s signature moments, hark to the night of Jan. 4, 1999, when Tennessee and Florida State were battling for the first BCS National Championship. It was third-and-9 at the Vol 21. The Vols had led from the outset, but the lead was in jeopardy. Tennessee was ahead 14-9. For Ward, it was a case of preparation meeting opportunity.
“Peerless Price is the wide receiver returning to the Vol huddle with the clock showing 9:45 to go in this game… This is John Ward and Bill Anderson sending you the action from the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona… Tennessee will come to the line with Travis Stephens as the running back. There are two flankers to the left, one to the right… Florida State in a 5-man front… They’re going to blitz this time… Martin back, steps up, struggles, going to throw the ball long, long down the field to Peerless Price… Caught at the 45… He’s at the 40… 35… 30… 25… 20. Just give it to him! No flags on the field! Touchdown, Tennessee!”
So, here’s a tip of the cap to Larry Munson and John Ward, who made football broadcasts exciting for fans over the years. Each possessed different styles but brought home the action in a memorable way.