(This will run in Thursday’s Gazette. It truly was one of the most-difficult columns I’ve tried to find words for in quite some time, and I don’t feel at all confident that I got it right. But here it is all the same)
The University of Iowa made a hard choice. So did Ed Podolak.
As a result, Hawkeyes football is losing something significant. It didn’t have to come down this way. But Podolak apparently is unwilling to change his ways and is walking away from something he loved with all his being, being part of Iowa football.
That’s a choice to which he’s fully entitled, just as the university was entitled to ask him to change the way he represented himself and the school while out in public.
Presumably under direction in this matter by Athletic Director Gary Barta, Podolak was urged to seek alcohol treatment and then be welcomed back to the Iowa football radio booth this fall for a 28th consecutive year as an analyst.
Podolak took the other option, to retire from broadcasting at age 61. It truly is something he had already been considering, by the way.
While Hawkeye football will always remain a focal point in so many Iowans’ lives, it’s immediately less than what it was two weeks ago.
You’re talking about a broadcaster who not only was able to make a chaotic game more understandable to untrained eyes like mine and probably yours.
More importantly, it was someone who did it with charisma, humor, presence, and above all, passion.
The next person who sits in the Kinnick Stadium press box chair next to Gary Dolphin might become really good. But he won’t be an icon.
All that said, Barta and his school were backed into a corner by Podolak’s behavior. Embarrassing Internet photos of an inebriated Podolak in Tampa pushed this along, but probably weren’t the origin of the ultimatum. There are too many stories out there, with less tolerance for them today in certain circles than there in days gone by.
More than a few Iowa football players have had alcohol-related incidents the last couple of years, and the university is plagued by the drinking culture of students in Iowa City.
So when a primary spokesman for Iowa football is shown to be impaired by drinking by photos on the Internet and the photos spread to Web sites hither and yon, it doesn’t play well in the university.
Nor should it. Even if it again magnifies the hypocrisy of the school and its athletic department.
The Hawkeye Huddle in downtown Tampa that was attended by thousands of Iowa fans on Dec. 30? An eyewitness said there were at least 30 beer-dispensers there. The venue was criticized by those fans three years earlier for not having enough beer. The “mistake” wasn’t made again.
As was critically noted in this section earlier this month, a beer company is a sponsor on Hawkeye radio broadcasts.
And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what effect it would have on attendance at Iowa football games if a total ban on alcohol was strictly enforced in university-owned parking lots on Game Day?
Willingly smack-dab in the middle of it all has been Podolak, a living mascot for Iowa fans.
He is the entirely approachable former Iowa football great and NFL standout. He’s the guy who always perfectly captured Hawkeye followers’ joy or frustration, then would celebrate or commiserate with them afterward at tailgates and taverns.
Frankly, he got rip-roaring drunk in public on several occasions. I’ve seen it a few times over the years. Countless camp-followers of the Hawkeyes have seen it more. It was in the public domain, whether the university wanted to ignore it or not.
Someone else can throw the stones at Podolak and get all holier-than-thou. My media brothers and sisters and I have been in a couple of those hotel bars at the same times he was present.
I’ve never run around with Podolak, but I would have loved to have spent hours listening to his stories, things that stretch beyond his vast football experiences. He’s been a real estate developer in Aspen, Costa Rica, and now northern California. He is friends with the Eagles — the band, not the football team.
Legend has it that Jimmy Buffett’s song “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,” was written for his close friend Podolak.
When author Hunter S. Thompson died, I phoned Podolak for what I hoped would be on interview about his friendship with his Aspen neighbor. To my eternal disappointment, he didn’t want to do it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had a small role on Hawkeye football broadcasts the last three years at the end of games. I’ve talked about what just unfolded on the field after play-by-play man Gary Dolphin read an intro promoting The Gazette and Gazetteonline.com.
Some of the best validation I’ve ever felt was whenever Podolak nodded in agreement with something I said.
All that said, I’m in no way pooh-poohing Podolak’s alcohol-related actions. He is an adult who has made his own choices and continues to make them. He has also had a lot of people in black-and-gold who have given him this different kind of validation: Drink, Eddie, drink.
When he was arrested for public intoxication and interference with official acts after falling asleep on the lawn of the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest in 1997, there didn’t appear to be a blip in Podolak’s broadcasting duties.
He pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service and a $50 fine. He didn’t look back, and neither did the university.
Who has been the biggest enabler over the years since when Podolak would slur his words at a Hawkeye rally? That very university. But no more.
Not to worry, though. You’ll still be able to tote your 12-packs down Melrose Avenue on the way to your tailgates.