This spring will bring the return of the hedges and the end of a legendary UGA career.

The date for this year’s G-Day intrasquad football game finally was announced this week; it’s April 13. In recent years, an effort was made to avoid scheduling the game during the Masters, but that won’t be the case this time, with the Red and Black teams set to meet in a scrimmage as the third round of the Augusta golf classic is played.

No official word yet on the kickoff time or which ESPN-related outlet will be televising the G-Day game.

At the same time, if you’ve had the chance to check out Sanford Stadium recently, you know how strange it looks without its famed hedges surrounding Dooley Field.

When the “revitalization” project was announced by the athletic association earlier this year, they said that the refurbished shrubs — the “sons and daughters of the original hedges” from 95 years ago — should be back in place in time for the spring intrasquad game.

Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium looks strange with the hedges temporarily removed. (Stu McGarity/Junkyard Blawg) (Stu McGarity/Dawgnation)

Since we now have a date for G-Day, I checked in this week on the status of the famed Chinese privets, and Leland Barrow, senior associate sports communication director, said the athletic association still anticipates “having them in place for the G-Day game on April 13.”

It’s expected that spring practice will begin around March 12, and they’ll now be doing it without Dell McGee, the Dawgs’ running-game coordinator and a member of Kirby Smart’s original 2016 coaching staff. McGee was named this week as the new head football coach at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where he’ll get to coach his son, Austin, an Athens Academy player who signed with the Panthers as a member of the 2024 recruiting class.

The senior McGee, a top recruiter for UGA, long had dreamed of being a head coach and it was only a matter of time before he’d get the opportunity. Here’s wishing him well, and I’ll say again that I’d love to see the Panthers in one of Georgia’s nonconference schedule spots in an upcoming season, rather than the likes of Austin Peay or Western Kentucky.

Kirby Smart and Georgia running-game coordinator Dell McGee leave the field after the Dawgs’ 2023 win over Auburn. (Tony Walsh/UGA) (Tony Walsh/Dawgnation)

Meanwhile, I know some fans aren’t thrilled to see James Coley reportedly returning to Smart’s staff after his short, poorly received tenure as offensive coordinator (which led to the hiring of Todd Monken), but he’s coming back as receivers coach, a job he handled well before.

Plus, he’s considered an extraordinary recruiter and played a role in Georgia getting a bunch of prospects in the past, including James Cook, Kenny McIntosh, George Pickens and Carson Beck. I have a feeling that weighed heavily in Smart’s thinking in bringing him back.

In another note for fans, if you collect Dawgs-related knickknacks, such as bobbleheads, and you haven’t yet ordered the new one honoring Uga X, you are out of luck. It has sold out. Each bobblehead is individually numbered (with only 2,023 made).

When the officially licensed, limited edition bobblehead initially was issued earlier this month by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, it sold out immediately, but a new batch was announced for May. However, that run now is gone, too. No word on whether there’ll be any more, though the website provides a link to get on a list for notification if there is.

Manny Diaz is seen with the boatload of trophies his tennis Dawgs have won. (University of Georgia) (University of Georgia/Dawgnation)

Meanwhile, another notable bit of UGA athletic news came Thursday, when it was announced that men’s tennis head coach Manuel Diaz, who is the SEC’s all-time leader in career wins and has guided Georgia to 29 conference championships, four NCAA national titles and a pair of ITA indoor national championships in 36 years, will retire at the conclusion of the current season.

As UGA’s John Frierson noted in a nice summation of Diaz’s career, the two-time All-American from Puerto Rico began his 46-year association with UGA when he came to Athens in 1971 to play for another ultra-successful tennis coach (and all-around UGA legend), Dan Magill. Diaz, known as Manny, eventually replaced Magill as Georgia’s coach in 1988 and, as Frierson said, “somehow took the program even higher.”

Under Diaz, besides winning four NCAA Team Championships, Georgia has appeared in the NCAA finals 11 times and won two Intercollegiate Tennis Association Team National Indoor Championships.

UGA has reached the NCAA Tournament in all 35 seasons under his leadership, advancing to the quarterfinals in 27 of those trips to the postseason. His players have captured eight individual NCAA Championships — three in doubles and five in singles. Most recently, Ethan Quinn won the NCAA singles title in 2023.

And Diaz has led the program to 10 SEC Tournament titles and 19 regular season crowns. Every four-year letterman has won at least one SEC Championship ring while playing at Georgia for Diaz.

Reflecting on his illustrious career in Athens took me back to another spring, 50 years ago, when I was finishing up my senior year at Georgia and was executive editor of The Red & Black, which named Diaz as the top UGA athlete of the 1973-74 school year.

Diaz, a junior, had played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Dawgs that season, and he won SEC titles in both categories. In dual match competition that season, he lost only one match.

The Red & Black named Manuel Diaz its athlete of the year in 1974. (John Bassett/The Red & Black) (The Red & Black/Dawgnation)

And, as the R&B noted in announcing him as athlete of the year, “Diaz has become one of the most popular players … to ever play for Georgia in any sport. His Spanish monologues berating himself for an occasional bad shot and his attempts to psyche his opponents have made him a favorite with the crowds.”

That spring of 1974 saw the UGA men’s tennis team drawing raucous overflow crowds, with fans who made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in understanding the finer points of the sport.

It wasn’t long before Georgia’s home crowds drew the attention of the tennis world at large, and that resulted in Georgia playing host to the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship many times, including every year consecutively from 1977 to 1989.

Conversely, the women’s team sometimes still had a problem that spring of ‘74 with random students trying to run them off the courts when they were practicing.

Still, things were starting to improve for women’s athletics at UGA, with the athletic association finally deciding to take complete charge of the funding and administration of the women’s intercollegiate athletics program, which had been under the women’s P.E. Department.

The fact that women’s sports previously had not been funded fully, despite female students paying the same activities fees as males, had been the subject of a number of protests on campus.

And, the previous fall, a federal HEW complaint had been filed against the university for not properly funding women’s teams. Athletic Director Joel Eaves admitted that “might have had an effect” on the decision to bring female athletics into the fold.

Protesters express support for women’s athletics getting equal funding in this Pandora yearbook shot. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Meanwhile, early 1974 also saw the UGA men’s basketball Dawgs place last in the SEC for the second time in four years, with a season record of 6-20, and they also ranked last in the conference in attendance, averaging just 3,084.

UGA also had a mediocre spring athletically, placing fifth among the conference’s 10 schools, with only the men’s tennis team finishing in first place.

But five UGA football players went in the NFL draft, including my old Athens classmate Andy Johnson, who was taken by the Patriots.

That spring’s G-Day game drew 13,000 fans — about average for those days — but there was increased media attention, because head coach Vince Dooley had decided to introduce the veer offense — a triple-option attack that was “spreading like flu” through the nation’s collegiate football programs that spring, as the R&B’s Steve Burns wrote.

It was a rebuilding year in a major way for Dooley, who was having to replace a bunch of veterans, including Johnson, Jimmy Poulos, Bob Burns, Danny Jones, Don Golden and Dick Conn. Dooley estimated that half the team’s starting positions were open as spring practice began and said the team needed help in the defensive line and secondary, but “finding a quarterback is our No. 1 concern.”

Bill Pace, who had run the veer at Vanderbilt, was the new offensive coordinator, and Ralph Page, who had been Johnson’s backup the previous fall, entered the spring leading the QB race, followed by Matt Robinson and Dickie Clark. (Another leading contender, Ray Goff, was out that spring with a knee injury.)

The spring 1974 G-Day game saw the veer offense introduced at Georgia. (Minla Linn/The Red & Black) (The Red & Black/Dawgnation)

Come G-Day, Page had a terrible day and basically took himself out of the running. But neither team looked particularly good, as they combined for 14 fumbles, including one by the Black team at the 1-yard line when Robinson made a bad pitch to running back Horace King. The Red team also had two passes intercepted.

However, the Reds wound up doing the fewest things wrong and won the ball game, 21-14, on a 21-yard run by Glynn Harrison with 43 seconds on the clock. Another highlight was tight end Richard Appleby catching 6 passes for 86 yards.

“We knew that the veer would be a high-risk offense,” Dooley said afterward, “but 14 fumbles is entirely too much of a risk. We’ll have to work on that.”

Perhaps anticipating that, he had scheduled another week of spring drills after the G-Day game.

Clark and Robinson came out of the game as the leading contenders at QB, Dooley said, “but I don’t think it’s settled yet.”

UGA did win one other “championship” during the winter-spring of 1974, as a result of the national streaking craze hitting campus in March.

Chris Jones, a recent UGA grad who was working as a newscaster at radio station WRFC in Athens, was there at the start of the streaking in Athens. He got a phone tip that Sunday night saying there would be some streaking on Milledge Avenue, home to many of the fraternities and sororities, so he staked it out.

He wasn’t alone. “Milledge Avenue was packed 5 to 10 rows deep on both sides up and down … as far as I could see,” he said.

After about two and a half hours, Jones said, “someone drives a green Mustang down Milledge, and perched as the hood ornament was a blonde, in the nude. The crowd roars. And it was on. Streak Week had begun.”

A streaker runs across the top of one of the UGA dorms in March 1974. (Minla Shields/Junkyard Blawg) (Minla Shields/Dawgnation)

The next night, a group of about 25 naked students streaked the Coliseum at halftime of the UGA-Tennessee basketball game.

Later that evening, Athens police tear-gassed a crowd of about 2,000 that had gathered after a male streaker was arrested outside one of the dorms during an old-fashioned panty raid. The crowd staged a sit-in in the middle of Baxter Street to protest the arrest, and the local cops (against the wishes of the campus police) decided to gas them.

A resident assistant at Russell Hall, a nearby dorm, recalled that “when folks, including the campus police officers, started flooding inside, we were helping everyone get to our wing’s restroom showers to wash the tear gas from their eyes. That was a crazy night.”

Meanwhile, someone had decided that UGA should try to break the record for a mass streak, which reportedly was held by the University of South Carolina or the University of North Carolina Greensboro (depending on the source).

The “championship” streak took place as some 3,000 people gathered to view all the naked people. (I later was told that university administrators sat on a balcony of Memorial Hall and watched with amusement.)

The final count was reported as 1,543 streakers (I don’t know who did the counting) and UGA was declared the new record holder. (To bring the story up to date, there’s talk in Athens of trying to top that number this spring, to mark the 50th anniversary of UGA’s mass streak.)

TK Harty’s Saloon was a prime Athens watering hole for UGA students 50 years ago. (TK Harty’s Facebook Page) (TK Harty's Saloon Facebook Page/Dawgnation)

Anyway, it was big excitement that week for us at the R&B offices in the basement of the journalism school, with all sorts of national media who were in town to cover streaking and an unrelated protest dropping by to use the phones, including AP, UPI, The Atlanta Journal, The Atlanta Constitution, CBS, NBC, ABC, Time, Newsweek and “60 Minutes.”

We took it all in stride, though, as most Friday afternoons, the core of the R&B staff would retire to the back “patio” (a gravel-covered area with some old wooden cable spools turned on their sides as tables) at Hoagie’s sandwich shop downtown, to drink beer.

Next, we’d move to Cecelia’s Golden China restaurant in the old Georgian Hotel (the first — and just about the last — time I ever tried to eat with chopsticks).

Then we’d finish off the evening at TK Harty’s, drinking some awful dark beer that was popular at the time. Occasionally, we’d go dancing to Southern boogie bands at the B&L Warehouse, and then stand out in the parking lot to cool off.

Good times.