Ed Podolak--Hall of Fame, April 20, 1986
By RON MALY
Register Staff Writer
Ed Podolak says he'll be watching television at home, and occasionally one of the networks will show some film of the 1971 Christmas Day game the Kansas City Chiefs played against the Miami Dolphins.
"After watching for a few minutes," Podolak says, "I wonder how I ever ran that far. Now I can't even run to catch an elevator."
Just kidding, of course. At 38, Podolak -- former Chiefs running back, former University of Iowa quarterback and tailback, and former Atlantic, Ia., High School athletic standout -- still gets around pretty well.
Today, the man who lives in Carbondale, Colo., and owns a real estate and gas and oil business 20 miles away in Aspen, becomes the 112th member of the Des Moines Sunday Register's Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.
Although Podolak displayed some brilliance as a rare double-position player at Iowa in 1966, 1967 and 1968, the Hawkeye football program in that era was considerably less than brilliant.
Indeed, those were part of football's Dark Ages at Iowa. The Hawkeyes had 19 straight non-winning, and Podolak played in three of them.
He participated on teams that had records of only 2-8, 1-8-1 and 5-5, but his 286-yard rushing day against Northwestern as a senior is still a school record.
Podolak led Iowa as a rusher that season with 937 yards, and was the team's No. 1 passer the two previous years. He threw for 1,041 yards as a sophomore, 1,014 as a junior.
He was a Hawkeye captain, the team's most valuable player and a first-team all-Big Ten Conference selection as a senior.
But Podolak's finest hours came as a member of the Chiefs. He was a National Football League "ironman," a 204-pounder who parlayed a strong work ethic instilled in him by parents Joe and Dorothy, and a gifted body into a nine-year pro career.
That's much longer than any running back is supposed to last in the NFL, where knee surgeries and broken bones are as commonplace as Tom Landry wearing a hat and Jim McMahon wearing a headband.
"The average career length is 31/2 years," said Podolak. "Maybe conditioning helped me stay as long as I did, maybe it was my running style. But luck had a big role in it, too.
"I really enjoyed my first three or four years of pro ball because we were very successful. But I didn't like the last part of my career because we were losing.
"That led me to retire. I could have played longer, but I hadn't had any knee operations, and thought it was time to quit.
Among the Chiefs' recods Podolak owns are for career-rushing yards with 4,451, and attempts with 1,158.
Although Podolak played on some outstanding Kansas City teams, his best game came in a loss.
That was the famous Christmas Day playoff game in 1971 with Miami. In a marathon that didn't end until the Dolphins' Garo Yepremian kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 27-24 victory after 82 minutes 40 seconds, Podolak piled up a record 350 yards.
He rushed for 100, totaled 100 in pass receiving, and added 150 in kick returns.
"The game was in Kansas City, and my parents were in town," Podolak said. "I went back home, ate a late Christmas dinner with them, then got on a plane the next day and flew to Aspen, so I could get away from football.
"Losing that game was a pretty painful experience. Most of our players thought we had a better team than the 1969 club that won the Super Bowl.
Injured as Rookie
Podolak was a rookie on the 1969 team, but tore a hamstring in the final exhibition game and missed nine weeks.
"I played on special teams in the Super Bowl game," he said, "and that was the only one I ever made it to."
In Super Bowl IV, at New Orleans on Jan. 11, 1970, Coach Hank Stram's Chiefs upset Minnesota, 23-7.
The versatile Podolak not only led the Chiefs in rushing for four straight years, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973, and again in 1977, but he still owns the club record with 12 pass receptions against Denver in 1973, and also has the club mark for punt returns with nine against San Diego in 1974.
Podolak was the Chiefs' second-round draft choice behind cornerback James Marsalis of Tennessee State after his senior season at Iowa.
Because he hadn't been moved from quarterback to running back until midway through his final year as a Hawkeye, Podolak gave the professional scouts plenty of time to see him as an option player.
"I was drafted by Saskatchewan of the Canadian League as a quarterback," Podolak said, "and gave a lot of thought to playing there.
"The Canadian offer was as much as he Chiefs' and it turned out I got a better deal from Kansas City because I was considering Saskatchewan."
Recruited by Burns
Jerry Burns was still the Iowa coach when Podolak was recruited out of Atlantic High School.
"Freshmen weren't eligible for varsity competition in college football then," Podolak said, "so I never played for Burns [who was fired after the 1965 season]."
Ray Nagel was hired as a coach, and Podolak Podolak became the quarterback.
"In my sophomore season, I was runner-up to Purdue's Bob Griese in Big Ten total offense," said Podolak.
"But it was frustrating to keep getting beat, because I'd played for high school teams that never lost.
"I had expected to be part of a healthy, winning program, but the wheels came off. Those first two years were really a struggle."
But Podolak began the 1968 season as the leader of a promising offensive unit. But, after opening with a 21-20 victory over Oregon State, the Hawkeyes promptly lost successive games to Texas Christian, Notre Dame and Indiana.
To make matters worse, Podolak suffered a concussion in the Oregon State game, then had the same thing happen at Texas Christian.
"I spent four or five days in a Texas hospital," he said, "and that was probably my worst injury as a player."
Podolak was moved to running back in the fifth game, and quickly proved it was a good move.
"I went to tailback," he said, "because Denny Green hurt an ankle, and we had no depth at the position.
"Larry Lawrence was our backup quarterback, and Nagel figured I'd be stronger at tailback.
"After gaining 140 yards in first game as a running back, I knew I'd stay there the rest of the year."
The highlight of the season came with the 286-yard rushing day in a 68-34 Iowa victory over Northwestern.
"That set a Big Ten record," Podolak said, "but it didn't last long. I broke a record that had stood for years, but the following week Ron Johnson of Michigan broke mine."
Podolak thought Iowa was headed for big things after he concluded his competition, but it was not to be.
"By the time I was a senior, Nagel had recruited a lot of good athletes," Podolak explained.
"I felt they had a chance to win the Big Ten championship the following season, bu the team lost nine or 10 starters because of the black boycott."
As a result, the 1969 team repeated the 1968 squad's 5-5 record, but won one fewer Big Ten game. Then, after a 3-6-1 record in 1970, Nagel was gone.
"Our 4-3 record in the Big Ten in '68 was the last time Iowa was better than .500 in the conference until Hayden Fry's teams," said Podolak.
Next fall, Podolak will be in his fifth season as a commentator on Iowa games broadcast by WHO-radio in Des Moines.
"I enjoy doing that much more than the work I did as a commentator on the NFL games on NBC-TV," he said. "College football is much more colorful than pro games.
"But the thing I enjoy most is that Hayden Fry's Iowa teams are winning. I'm tremendously impressed with Fry. I hope this is his last coaching job, and that he stays at Iowa 20 more seasons."
Podolak and his wife, Vicki, also formerly of Atlantic, are the parents of two children -- Emily, 8, and Laura, 5.
His parents no longer live on a farm, and have moved into town in Atlantic. Younger brother Charlie, also a former Iowa player, lives in Columbus, Ohio, and sister Betty is in San Antonio, Texas.
Podolak lives a casual lifestyle in Colorado. He doesn't wear many three-piece suits or Florsheim wingtips.
"If you put on a coat and tie to do business in Colorado, they think you're going to rob the bank," he joked.
"I wear tennis shoes a lot because my feet got so beat up when I played football. That part of your body takes a real beating.
"When I retired as a player, I promised myself my feet would never hurt again."