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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Looking Back No. 5: Losing the Legends

From Pop Warner to Mark Richt, Georgia has had its share of legendary head coaches. New stars grace the field nearly every season then disappear in four years. For the better part of the past half-century, however, a grizzled announcer and a rumple-faced bulldog have been the face of Georgia football around the country. In 2008, however, Bulldogs fans bid farewell to both.

The sad farewells began in July when Uga VI, the Bulldogs' mascot since 1999, died. During his tenure as the sideline stalwart for Georgia, Uga VI had presided over more wins than any of his predecessors, and the selection of a replacement was shrouded in secrecy.

Fans were still quick to embrace the new mascot, Uga VII, an English bulldog that was introduced to the Sanford Stadium crowd prior to Georgia's home opener against Georgia Southern. Excitement over the introduction even spilled into the locker room.

"I know Stafford is very interested in getting a picture with Uga VII since that's his jersey number," head coach Mark Richt said before Georgia's home opener.

Uga VII may have quickly endeared himself to the Bulldogs' fans, but he wasn't exactly an energetic supporter on the sideline, with several players commenting after that first game that the new mascot seemed to be dozing off in the fourth quarter.

While the transfer from one mascot to the next was mostly seamless, the change in the press box was a bit more noticeable. In late September, longtime announcer Larry Munson announced he was retiring from the broadcast booth.

Munson, 86, had undergone brain surgery during the offseason and had battled health problems throughout the past few years. For months leading up to the kickoff of the 2008 season, fans wondered whether the unabashed Georgia fan would add his Southern charm and boundless enthusiasm to the team's broadcasts for a 43rd season until Munson announced he would be back in the booth in early August.

The work took its toll on Munson, however, and after just two home games, he was ready to call it quits. An outpouring of well wishes and vivid memories of Munson's best calls and colorful style followed.

"I was a big Georgia fan growing up," said wide receiver Kris Durham. "I always wanted to hear him call my name even though he kind of butchers it every time he says it. He's a legend around here. Even when I watched the games back at home when I was younger, my dad would turn off the announcers and listen to him."

In Georgia's final game of the regular season against Georgia Tech, Muson was honored with a special on-field tribute between the first and second quarters that earned some of the loudest cheers heard all season in Sanford Stadium.

"I can't express enough my deep feelings toward the Georgia football fans," Munson said after his retirement. "They have been so friendly especially during this most recent period of time. I feel I owe them so much more than I can give. I'll remember all the great times with the Dogs and have the fondest wishes and good luck toward them all."

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