Most former Georgia football players would do anything to put the pads on between the hedges just one more time.
Hardly any of them ever get the chance. But on April 21, 1984, at 46 years young, Leroy Dukes got his.
Playing linebacker on a team made up of former Georgia players, he took the field in a jersey that no longer covered his growing gut. He crouched down into his stance, grabbed a handful of monopoly money he had stuffed in his pants and began waving it at the opposing offensive linemen, pleading with them to allow a free path to his son.
David Dukes, 19 at the time, was a redshirt freshman quarterback appearing in his first G-Day game. Most players on the team were worried about earning some playing time come fall, but on this play, David Dukes had only his father to worry about.
“When we broke the huddle, I looked across the line of scrimmage and see this round man waving money at the offensive linemen to try to get them to let him through to tackle me,” David Dukes said.
Leroy Dukes burst through the line well before the ball was snapped and lined up the hit he so desperately wanted.
“He grabbed me and started pulling me backwards (sic) and said, ‘You’ve got to go down, you’ve got to go down,’” the younger Dukes said. “I said, ‘Over my dead body.’”
After Leroy Dukes’ failed tackle attempt, he made his way to the sideline and promptly removed his pads with a chuckle.
“That’s what his whole goal was,” David Dukes said. “He wanted to sack his son, the quarterback.”
David Dukes’ story is one of many that characterized the hilarious, wildly entertaining and borderline inappropriate backyard football game that was played in Sanford Stadium in place of an intrasquad scrimmage in 1984.
But how and why did it happen?
Shallow depth chart
Just a few years removed from a national title, the Georgia Bulldogs went into the spring of 1984 with a threadbare roster. Several injuries had left the depth chart a bit shallow, and head coach Vince Dooley didn’t think he had enough healthy players to stage a proper spring game.
“Dooley addressed the team and said that due to our injuries, he thought it would be appropriate to bring back some alumni players and have a game against them,” David Dukes said. “We all kind of chuckled and said that’s fine.”
Rick Fromm, who was a safety on that year’s team, was excited about the matchup.
“When we first heard about it we were thinking ‘Oh, we’re gonna kill these guys,’” he said.
Fromm may have anticipated a cake walk, but David Dukes and some of the other players knew better.
“Some of these guys who had just graduated were on the national championship team and won three-straight SEC championships,” David Dukes said. “It wasn’t like we were going to just run over these guys.”
One of “those guys," was Mitch Frix, who had only just wrapped up his playing career as the long snapper two seasons prior in 1982.
“I was still in pretty decent shape,” Frix said. “A lot of the guys my age did come back and play, but a lot of the older guys came back and played too. There were some guys in their 40s that I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe these guys are going to try to play.’”
Not only did these old guys play, but they also scored.
After the opening kickoff, the alumni offense took the field at the 35-yard line.
They didn’t wait long to use a trick play.
“On the very first play we had a guy on the sideline 15 yards downfield come run behind everybody and complete a pass,” Frix said. “They couldn’t figure out where that guy came from. Nobody ever caught on — no instant replay back then.”
Quarterback Tommy Lewis, who last played at Georgia in 1983, connected with wide receiver Kent Lawrence, who last played in 1968. Lawrence ran all the way down inside the 5-yard line. The alumni scored on the ensuing play.
Fromm remembers the reaction on the opposite sideline.
“The coaches went ballistic,” he said.
Frix doesn’t remember the score of the game going into halftime, but he remembers the beer.
“Coming in at halftime we had a stinking keg in the locker room,” Frix said. “We popped it at halftime and a lot of the older guys had them a few beers before going back out for the second half.”
Despite the hydration, or maybe because of it, the difference in the fitness and conditioning between the two sides began to appear in the second half. The players took control of the scrimmage and they went on to defeat the alumni.
Despite the loss, Frix said he and the alumni enjoyed themselves immensely.
“It ended up being a really good thing,” he said.
It wasn’t just fun for the old guys though. Fromm enjoyed it so much that it inspired him to play in the next alumni vs. players game in the spring of 1989.
“I always heard coaches say, ‘Oh, what I’d give to put the pads on again’ and I figured they were all liars,” Fromm said. “But I really did like it.”
David Dukes joined him on the alumni team that year as well.
“We were out there just trying to have a good time and relive some memories,” he said.
The dozens of alumni and players who graced the field in 1984 and 1989 all took something different away from those days in Sanford Stadium. For David Dukes, it was a memory that he and his father would laugh about until Leroy died in 2008. For Fromm, it was a chance to enjoy a game without the pressure of earning playing time.
But for Frix, the game taught him something else.
“It made you realize there’s a lot of good people that have worn the red and black,” Frix said.