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Is Ed Podolak most underappreciated Iowa football icon?

[ 0 ] August 9, 2014 |

Is Ed Podolak the most underappreciated icon in Iowa football history?

The answer is yes — at least when it comes to having his name etched into a place of permanence.

Podolak was not included among the nine former players displayed on the Kinnick Stadium Wall of Honor, which was unveiled last year, nor has the former quarterback/tailback been inducted into the National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame.

He is also absent from the Hawkeyes’ media wall of fame, located <JU>inside the stadium press box, despite spending more than three decades as a popular radio analyst.

You might think the 66-year-old native of Atlantic — who has been part of more than 400 games — would feel a little slighted.

Ed Podolak, left, jokes with former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry at the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

Ed Podolak, left, jokes with former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry at the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

Instead, he expresses gratitude.

“It’s been a great ride, that’s for sure,” Podolak said when reflecting on his career. “From being a little fan listening to Jim Zabel on the radio, on the farm in Cass County, until today. It’s really wonderful to be part of the Hawkeye family.”

He may never say it, but somebody should: Podolak deserves recognition for his achievements and longevity.

“I don’t know of anybody who comes even close to Ed Podolak,” said Gary Dolphin, the Hawkeyes’ play-by-play announcer, “in terms of all the positives he brings to the table.”

Lousy teams

There are no villains in this dilemma, just voters and circumstances.

Podolak, a starter from 1966 to 1968, was a dual-threat link in a quarterbacking lineage that stretches from Randy Duncan to Brad Banks.

He just never had enough defensive support and, according to the Iowa records, never performed in front of a network television audience.

The 6-foot-1, 204-pound Podolak accounted for 4,214 yards in three seasons (1,710 rushing, 2,316 passing, 188 receiving).

Iowa posted an 8-21-1 record during that span.

“It was very difficult to be on a losing football team,” Podolak said. “You still do the best you can, and you play as hard as you can. You think you can win every game, but it was a real struggle.”

Podolak’s signature moment at Iowa came Nov. 9, 1968, when he rushed for 286 yards on 17 carries — a school record that stood 29 years, until Tavian Banks ran for 314 against Tulsa.

The 1968 Hawkeyes averaged 32.2 points, ranking them among the top 10 scoring teams nationally. They finished 5-5.

“That was one of the more fun teams to watch in Iowa history,” Dolphin said. “Those guys could rack up points like we had not seen. The problem was, they couldn’t stop anybody.”

‘A great guy’

Iowa boasts 21 consensus all-Americans, and they all share something in common: Each of them played for a winning team during their Iowa careers.

Podolak was not an all-American. But how is he not one of the 46 football players in the Varsity Club Hall of Fame?

“It’s unfortunate,” said Les Steenlage, the executive director. “Ed’s a great guy. There’s no question about that, but there are other individuals …”

All current dues-paying members can nominate any former Hawkeye letterwinner from a varsity sport. Up to five new members may be inducted annually.

“You have to be nominated every year,” Steenlage explained, “and for several years now (Podolak) has been nominated.

“He was nominated this year.”

What makes Podolak’s omission so obvious is the fact he’s been on the Kansas City Chiefs’ ring of honor since 1989, and his bust is displayed in a museum adjoining Arrowhead Stadium.

A stellar nine-year NFL career did not prevent Podolak from being snubbed by other organizations.

He did not make the cut when the Gannett News Service compiled an all-time Iowa team in 2000. When fans selected an all-century team in 1989, Podolak was listed under the special mention category.

In the booth

Podolak’s most lasting legacy at Iowa will be as a broadcaster.

“I remember coming up to games when I was a little kid,” said Travis Perry, a Hawkeye linebacker from Urbandale, “and my parents would always turn on the radio and listen to his voice.”

Podolak kicked off his second career after retiring from the Chiefs in 1977. He spent time with NBC and ESPN before partnering with Zabel in 1982.

“As good a tough-nosed, physical football player as he was, Eddie studied the game unlike anybody I’ve ever been around,” said Dolphin, who replaced Zabel after the 1996 season. “He can look at a game plan or 10 minutes of film and immediately identify what the defensive tendencies are, not just for that series, but an entire game.”

While Podolak’s playing accomplishments fade from memory, he remains relevant on the air waves.

Perry’s father, Russ, is part of a National Guard unit that was deployed to Afghanistan, and Podolak will provide a connection to home.

“My dad is a big fan of his,” Travis Perry said. “We’re actually working on getting discs, so we can send them overseas. He can sort of get the inside scoop, and listen to Ed.”

Human faults

There are pitfalls in living a public life.

When photos of Podolak drinking with fans were circulated on the Internet in 2009, he contemplated retirement.

“It was embarrassing to me and to the university,” Podolak said. “I’ve been very careful of my conduct since then, and I appreciate the way the university worked with me on resolving the issue.

“I think everybody is better off for it.”

Icons are human, too. And a few unflattering snapshots shouldn’t overshadow the overall picture.

Podolak wore the black and gold for 30 games, and since he’s settled behind a microphone Iowa has taken the field 391 times.

No other Hawkeye can claim to have made such an impact.

“It just proves that this is a special place,” said Jake Rudock, Iowa’s current quarterback. “The fact he loves this university so much, and this program so much.

“I don’t want to speak for Mr. Podolak, but it’s pretty much home for him.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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