A whole new ball game

It's hard to know sometimes how special a memory will be.

Even in the most significant moments, when you're in the midst of creating what will one day be a recollection of some degree of importance, it's hard to really know how cherished it will become.

I have a few that, when I was making them, I thought I understood. But I didn't really. I don't think I really will until 7:45 Saturday night.

I think that's when it'll hit me. Me and thousands of others whose favorite colors in the fall are red and black.

Saturday night, Larry won't be there. If you're a Georgia fan, no last name is necessary.

But you don't have to be a Georgia fan to understand this: Larry Munson has been a constant in my life, for all of my life. The sun rises in the east, the sky is blue, water is wet and Larry Munson is the voice coming out of my radio on Saturdays in the fall.

There have been a handful of people in history who have become so linked with something else that the thought of one without the other is hard to bear. Walter Cronkite and the evening news, Johnny Carson and "The Tonight Show," Elvis and rock 'n' roll, John Wayne and westerns - you used to not be able to mention one without the other. Then each time we were forced to face that very situation - of one without the other - none of the things ever seemed the same.

It's the same with the Bulldogs and Larry Munson.

Will my love of Georgia football be different? No. Never. Not even if the Bulldogs never win another game. I'll always be true to my school.

But the experience will be different now. Turning down the sound on the TV and turning on the radio won't seem quite as important on Saturdays. Taking a radio to the game won't seem like a necessity, at least for now.

It's no slight against Munson's replacement. If any man in the universe is the best choice and the most deserving to step into Larry's shoes, it's Scott Howard. But Howard, I think, as much as anyone, knows there will be a period of adjustment.

Oh sure, we were weaned slowly when Larry quit calling away games last year. But you always knew he'd be back in a week or two, and then your world would make sense again. But not anymore.

I think in time I will grow to love listening to Howard nearly as much, and maybe just as much because I know he's a Bulldog in his heart just like Larry.

But come Saturday, in those seconds right before kickoff, when Larry is supposed to be saying, "Get the picture now," I know my mind will be elsewhere. It'll go to those memories I made.

It'll go back to those falls when I was a kid, running a radio cord out the window so I could listen while I raked leaves.

It'll go back to "Sugar falling out of the sky" and "Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!"

It'll go back to a Saturday morning nearly 20 years ago in the press box in Sanford Stadium when a college kid who needed to light some Bunsen burners nervously borrowed some matches from the man who'd screamed those things through the radio. Then I'll think of later that same Saturday, when I asked a radio producer if it would be OK if I stood in the booth and just listened. "Just don't get in the way," he said.

My mind will wander through the Saturdays after that, when I got my work for Food Services done as quickly as I could so I could go stand two feet behind a legend and hear his words in person, unfiltered and unamplified, just a pure human voice made to do one thing better than anybody else ever could.

I'll think of watching a then-70-year-old man rock and sway in his chair during big plays, nearly jumping out of it while I stood on the little step right behind him and wondered how much longer it would be before he broke that chair, too.

I'll think of those private moments in the midst of thousands of people, on those precious few Saturdays when I heard what the man said a millisecond before anybody else in the whole world.

And I know I'll think of three Saturdays ago, when I stupidly forgot my radio, and when the heat and my blood sugar got to me in the third quarter. My wife and I reluctantly leaving the game early. Returning to the car, feeling guilty for leaving, even though it was a blowout. Turning on the radio, listening to Larry live for what turned out to be the last time, not knowing then what a blessing the heat and diabetes would turn out to be that day.

I'll think of all those things Saturday, and then I think, finally, I'll get the picture.

Happy birthday and happy retirement, Larry.

And thanks for the memories.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.