MCCULLOUGH: Ol' Lady Luck smiles on me

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

You never know how significant moments might become in this life.

Even when you're in the middle of those moments that you know are going to become treasured memories, it's sometimes hard to know just how special they will be until something happens to give them perspective.

That happened for me Sunday night when Larry Munson died.

I first met Munson when I was a 19-year-old kid working for Food Services at the University of Georgia. Well, I first met him when I was about 8 or 9 through the magic of radio, like most people did. But I met him in person one beautiful Saturday in Athens in the Sanford Stadium pressbox.

I was a student supervisor at one of the dining halls, which meant I had to help cater the reporters' meals on game day. While all my friends would be in the stands rooting for the Dawgs, I would be in the pressbox kitchen, heating up green beans and dry fried chicken. As a football fan, it was terrible. As a journalism student, it was a fascinating opportunity, a chance to get to see the pros at work.

And, I hoped, maybe, just maybe, I'd get a glimpse of the man who'd been bringing me Georgia games through my radio speakers since I was a little kid.

I got a lot more than that.

My first day in the pressbox was an early one. It was hours before gametime, and the only people there were the folks who ran it, us food servers and one, lone man sitting by himself at a table. He wore large-framed glasses and was going over stat sheets.

As I unloaded chafing dishes and trays of food I kept looking over at him, unable to believe that I was that close to the Legendary Voice. I wanted so badly to meet him, but he was working. I was working. I didn't really have time to be starstruck, and I assumed he didn't have time for me.

Then an interesting problem arose. I needed to light some Sterno cans, but I had no way of doing that.

But Larry did. I was certain that he smoked cigars and would have a lighter or matches. So I eased up to him and asked to borrow some.

"Here you go, kid," he said in that distinctive voice as he slid a matchbook across the table.

And that was it. Nothing else. The encounter was over because, as I know now, only one of us was doing anything special. I was meeting a legend. He was loaning a kid matches.

I didn't want it to end. So I looked down at the stat sheets, and asked, "How's it looking for us today?"

"It ain't looking good."

Typical Larry. We could've been favored by a hundred, and it wouldn't have looked good.

Later I gave him his matches back, thanked him and then watched him go into the radio booth, where I assumed they would barricade the door and I would have to settle for listening to him on the pressbox radio feed like everybody else.

By game time, we were finished setting up, and with nothing to do until halftime, I decided to make the rounds and check out the pressbox, which was now full of people.

As I walked by the radio booth, a curious detail stood out: The door was still open. Inside, a familiar figure sat in a metal chair, wearing a headset.

The game began, and still they didn't close the door. I edged ever closer until I was right outside. Inside, a living legend practiced his craft.

I took another chance. I stepped halfway into the booth. A guy sitting in the back looked up.

"Is it OK if I stand here and listen?"

He nodded. "Just stay out of the way."

I was in the doorway, which I took to be "in the way," so I stepped down onto the next landing, which happened to put me right behind Larry.

How close was I? If he'd tried to scratch his back, he'd have probably scratched me.

I leaned as close as I dared until finally I was right there. I could hear him talking.

Before that familiar, beloved voice traveled into the mic, through the cables, out to the broadcast tower and to the rest of the world, I was able to hear it first, the virgin broadcast, my ears hearing in person what they'd heard for so many years via loudspeaker. I was in Bulldog heaven.

I don't remember if we won that day. I barely remember who we played. (I think it was LSU.) But I will remember standing in that radio booth listening to the greatest college football announcer that ever lived for as long as I live.

I stood there many times over that season and part of the next. I saw and heard in person the man's passion for our team. When a Bulldog would break a big run, he would rock back and forth so violently while he screamed into the microphone that I just knew the metal would give way, and then I understood how he broke his chair that day in Florida in 1980 when he made his most famous call.

I eventually talked to him a couple more times and got him to autograph some programs once. He wrote Hunker Down! on them, which was great, because I was listening when he screamed that the first time.

I was listening for the Kevin Butler kick that went "100,000 miles." I was listening for 4th and 15 and "My God, a touchdown!" at Auburn. For the hobnailed boot and so many others I was listening, and now I have a memory the significance of which finally became clear Sunday night when I thought about this: The last time I was in the pressbox was a year or two before Munson's retirement, when I noted that they kept the radio booth door firmly closed.

My goodness, how Ol' Lady Luck smiled on that young college kid.And thanks, Larry. I finally get the picture now.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.