Man, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight!
Someone on Twitter posed the following question the other day: what is the greatest sports call of all time? The answer everyone instantly gave was Al Michaels' immortal narration of the final half minute of the 1980 medal round hockey game between the United States and the Soviet Union. (I think something memorable might have happened that afternoon in Lake Placid.) It is the most recognizable sports call ever and I'll argue among the most historic phrases uttered in American history, alongside Roosevelt's "a date which will live in infamy," Lincoln's "four score and seven years ago," and Cronkite's "from Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official..." It was more than just a sporting event, more than just the red team versus the white team in a sixty minute game of ice hockey, more than just the underdogs pulling the biggest upset of a generation. So, with that said, should "Do You Believe In Miracles?" count in the discussion for greatest sports call of all time? You have to disqualify it, right? If so, what's the best? If not, what's number two? If we're looking for purely sports, the play on the field, and the announcer's crafting of the narration to his audience, I think I have the correct answer.
The year was 1980. Georgia football was at a fork in the road. Head coach Vince Dooley had been in Athens for 16 seasons, bagged three conference titles, five nine-plus win seasons, but was still looking for the school's first national championship since 1946. Despite a 6-5 record the year prior, the Bulldogs were optimistic about the 1980 season, bringing back 17 starters, as well as an incoming freshman by the name of Herschel Walker. Entering the season #16 in the AP Poll, would this finally be the season the Dawgs broke thru? Or was Georgia destined to be nothing more than a perennial SEC contender?
After unleashing Walker on the world - and most notably, poor Bill Bates - in a 16-15 win over Tennessee in Knoxville, Georgia went on a tear, posting a combination of three shutout victories, a rout of TCU, and hard-fought wins over Ole Miss and budding power Clemson. This left the Dawgs 7-0 heading into a nationally televised showdown with 6-1 and 14th ranked South Carolina and Heisman Trophy candidate George Rogers. Rogers rushed for 168 yards, but, with the Cocks trailing 13-10, fumbled on what would've been a game-tying or game-winning drive with just over five minutes to play. Rogers would have to settle for the Heisman, as it was Walker and his 213 yards leading Georgia to an eighth straight win and a matchup the following week with #20 Florida in "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."
The game was played in Jacksonville, as it had been since the 30's, with the schools splitting tickets and the gate 50/50. The Dawgs had held the upper hand in the rivalry since Dooley had taken over the program, a significant shift after the Gators had won ten out of twelve in the 50's and early 60's. In the national scene, save for Notre Dame, all of the other title contenders had lost, and Georgia had moved to #2 in the polls. To continue its quest for a national championship, UGA had to vanquish its old foe yet again. Florida, on the other hand, had gone winless in 1979, the worst season in school history, but had rebounded impressively under second year head coach Charley Pell, and the Gators, as they would do many times in years to come, were out to play spoiler in Georgia's dream season.
The Dawgs were favored, and jumped out to an early 14-3 lead after Walker broke 100 yards in the first quarter alone, opening up the lesser-used passing game headed up by junior QB Buck Belue. News came that Notre Dame was trailing to Georgia Tech back in Atlanta, and the UGA faithful in attendance began to stir even more. However, a Walker fumble (his first lost fumble of the season) gave way for a TD by UF receiver Cris Collinsworth, cutting the UGA lead to 14-10. After long Bulldog drives sputtered inside the 10, with UGA settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, Florida answered late, with a 11 yard TD run by fullback James Jones, the subsequent two point conversion, and then a field goal with 6:52 remaining to give Florida its first lead of the day at 21-20.
Georgia was unable to answer, but the Gators could not run the clock out, pinning the Dawgs inside their own ten yard line with a minute and a half left. Two plays went nowhere and defeat hung over the red and black clad Bulldog contingent like a rain cloud. But on third down, the skies parted...
Belue to Scott. 92 yards. Euphoria. And Larry Munson's call of this play is absolutely perfect. He simultaneously tells the story of the action on the field while speaking to, and along with, the audience (Georgia fans) to which he is narrating this story.
"Back, third down on the eight, in trouble..."
Belue is forced to scramble, the Gator defense had rattled him on first and second downs, too. Belue is in trouble. The Dawgs are in trouble. The entire season is in trouble as Belue runs to his right and back toward the line of scrimmage.
"Got a block behind him, gonna throw on the run... complete to the 25, to the 30, Lindsay Scott..."
Wait, there's hope! At least a little, as Belue finds Scott sitting underneath the Florida's zone. It's obviously enough for a first down, and maybe UGA can drum up a couple of more big plays and get this thing into field goal range. Scott catches and turns, good for at least a few more yards. If you're a Georgia fan, you're not dead yet.
"35, 40, Lindsay Scott 45, 50. 45, 40..."
Scott pivots right and curls back downfield toward the sideline - in case he needs to get out of bounds - but there's nothing out there but green grass. The defense overcompensated for Belue being forced back to the nearside. Munson's cadence has clearly increased at this point. This is not a "prolong the agony" play, this is now a "this could change the outcome of the game" play. Munson amps up the intensity as the play escalates.
Along with every Georgia fan, Munson's now all in. There are memorable plays that happen in an instant, and there are memorable plays that take what feels like forever to finish, in which you can sense the increasing enormity of the situation as the play develops. Between the scramble, the pass, the catch, and the run, multiplied by the mammoth stakes involved, this must have felt like three minutes. When Munson implores Scott to keep going, it has been more then 12 seconds since the ball was snapped, an eternity on a football field. Scott, himself, has been the ballcarrier for more than six seconds before Munson cheers him on. This is the apex of the call. That isn't just Munson pleading with Lindsay Scott to keep going, it is every UGA fan watching or listening, all buying in that their prayers have been answered.
"25, 20, 15, 10, 5..."
Now we're coming down the stretch. Munson's counting down the yards, not unlike Michaels counting down the seconds in Lake Placid. Will Lindsay make it? Does he have enough gas in the tank? He's not going to step on the chalk, is he? Please tell me Sonny Gilliam (the Florida defensive back who had the best line on Scott from all the way back at the UGA 25) isn't going to run him down! Gilliam can't catch him.
"LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT!"
Scott has scored, 92 yards from Buck Belue. The national championship dream is alive. It's pandemonium in Jacksonville. The Bulldog half of the crowd is beyond ecstatic. Munson goes silent for seven seconds, the listener is able to soak in the thrill of the crowd through the audio. The season has been saved by Lindsay Scott.
At this point, this is a phenomenal football call. But, there's that period, particularly when there's a big celebration, between the touchdown and the extra point in which some time has to be filled. It is here where Munson's work transcends from flawless sports call to "you know where you were when it happened" status.
"Well, I can't believe it. 92 yards and Lindsay really got in a footrace, I broke my chair. I came right thru a chair, a metal STEEL chair with about a five inch cushion - I broke it. The booth came apart, the stadium... well, the stadium fell down, now they do have to renovate this thing, they'll have to rebuild it now. This is, this is incredible! Ya know, this game has always been called The World's Greatest Cocktail Party, do you know what is gonna happen here tonight? And up at St. Simons, and Jekyll Island, and all those places? Where all those Dawg people have got these condominiums for four days? Man, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight! 26 to 21, DAWGS on top! We were gone! I gave up, you did too. We were out of it and gone!"
After recomposing himself, Munson comes back and relays his own reaction, in the press box, to the fans, many of whom likely went thru a similar experience wherever they were listening. He describes the spur of the moment damage to the chair, then describes the delirium at the Gator Bowl, unable to be contained and thus the need for mass cleanup, Munson himself guilty as anyone else. Hyperbolic, sure, but permissible given the ramifications of Lindsay Scott's catch and run. He openly references the alcohol consumption, a huge no-no in the modern era, and allows the listener to connect the dots as to how many more cocktails the Bulldog camp, many having made the drive down from Athens and Atlanta and posting up on the beach for a long weekend, will throw down that evening, and nails the money quote here, blatantly announcing that Georgia fans will be celebrating like idiots as the sun sets on this dramatic victory. He closes the call with disbelief, clearly a man who, despite the necessity to call the action on the field with at least some journalistic neutrality, is allowing the biased observer inside to come out and partake in the exasperation of the Dawgs' undefeated season rolling on.
If I am listening to my home team's radio voice, this is exactly how I want the story to be told to me. This is perfection.
Georgia finished the season 12-0, defeating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim an undisputed national championship. Larry Munson, you are missed dearly, not only by Bulldogs the world over, but college football fans everywhere. Your finest work will never be forgotten.
My dad was in the Air Force. He got stationed at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery when I was in the fifth grade in October 1992. Moving from the Carolina coast to Alabama was, needless to say, a culture shock. We were "lucky" enough to move to the heart of the Southeastern Conference the same year that Gene Stallings coached one of the most ferocious defenses in college football history to an undefeated National Championship, capped off by a Crimson Tide 34-13 Sugar Bowl beatdown of Miami. While it was pretty cool to see all the locals (well, HALF the locals) all jazzed up about their school bringing home some hardware, it QUICKLY became evident that no matter how many games they won, how many trophies they captured, or how many scholarships they were stripped of due to NCAA probation, these people were not going to shut up about their football team.
The following summer, the Eric Ramsey case sent the state into mass hysteria, as Auburn got SLAMMED with NCAA sanctions. Nobody was safe, as even Auburn icon Pat Dye was ousted as head coach. For several months in 1993, unless your name was Jordan and you were in the process of winning a third consecutive NBA Title, nobody knocked Ramsey off the headlines of the Montgomery Advertiser sports page. The day after the probation came down, the paper had an entire section dedicated to the fallout. All the key figures involved, the intricacies of the various parts of the case, what it meant for Auburn (and Alabama) for the upcoming seasons.
Of course, Auburn, unable to play on television (I miss the TV probation days), leaving radio legend Jim Fyffe to narrate the Tigers' season, proceeded to go 11-0, upsetting Bama on the final day of the season, and staked a claim to a national title they were doomed to be denied of. In 1994, BOTH teams went undefeated (Auburn's winning streak was snapped by a 20-20 tie with Georgia) until Bama held on for a 21-14 win in Birmingham that propelled them back to the SEC Championship Game. Then the Antonio Langham case broke, and it was Auburn's turn to laugh at the Tide.
The lesson here, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it doesn't stop. If there's not a national title to talk about, there's an SEC Title to talk about. If there's not an SEC Title to talk about, there's the Iron Bowl to talk about. And if the Iron Bowl - the rowdiest, craziest rivalry in sports - is down, as it has been since Cam Newton left The Plains, Bama fans will find someone else to snipe with.
The most recent target of those attacks? Texas A&M. But the Aggies aren't backing down, coming back at the Tide with some barbs of their own. A&M athletic director Eric Hyman dropped this gem earlier this week:
What do the moon and Texas A&M have in common? They both control the Tide"
Yes, there's already a shirt you can buy, too.
I love this. While Alabama was a difficult place to live at times, those same crazies who made it miserable so often would also provide me the entertainment to get thru those long, hot Alabama summers when it's too muggy to go outside and do much of anything. That SEC mentality is starting to creep into Texas behind the rise of Kevin Sumlin's Aggies. The A&M contingent, after having to deal with all the burnt orange in Texas for all these years, have ditched themselves of old baggage and have started anew in their new SEC home, and they've grasped the culture instantly.
September 14th can't get here soon enough.
Spoiler: You will get more takes from Mikey on the NWA U.S. Title scene from 1986 thru 1990 than you will on PAC-12 or Big Ten football.