IOWA CITY, Iowa - Late in the third quarter of Iowa’s record-setting 68-34 romp over Northwestern in 1968, Coach Ray Nagel presented senior tailback Ed Podolak the game ball. “If Eddie isn’t all-Big Ten this season, then I never expect to coach one at Iowa,” Nagel said. “The kid’s as good an athlete as I’ve ever coached.”
Podolak set a Big Ten record that day with 286 yards rushing in just 17 carries. And yes, he earned all-Big Ten honors that season, thanks in no small part to his greatest game as a Hawkeye. His most memorable game at Iowa?
“It would be that one,” Podolak said. “Because we didn’t win a lot my first two years (2-8 in 1966, 1-8-1 in 1967). That was really tough to take because I never lost a game in high school. Then my senior year (1968) we had a pretty good team. We finished .500.”
Podolak had an amazing football career at Atlantic, the University of Iowa and the Kansas City Chiefs.
He’s been enshrined in five different halls of fame. He has a street named after him in his home town of Atlantic. And in that town’s football stadium, the Trojan Bowl, a plaque hangs in Podolak’s honor. He also played on a Super Bowl championship team with the Chiefs. That’s a lifetime of memories, for sure. And it makes him feel good that people remember him.
“Of course it does,” said Podolak, 74.
Podolak was finally inducted into the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame earlier this month. He’s also a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the Des Moines Sunday Register Iowa Sports Hall of Fame. A member of Iowa’s radio team since 1982, he’s also been enshrined in the Kinnick Stadium Media Wall of Fame. Today, Podolak sits in the radio booth high above the playing field. The place where he ran his way into Iowa football history one November afternoon.
And the fact that he was playing tailback is a story all its own. Podolak started his senior season as Iowa’s quarterback. He had passed for 1,041 yards as a sophomore and 1,014 yards as a junior.
But four games into Podolak’s senior season, starting tailback Dennis Green injured an ankle. Nagel didn’t have confidence in Green’s backup, and Podolak was a better option. “Nagel called me in and said, “I’m going to move you to tailback for this game (against Wisconsin),’ ” Podolak recalled. “He said, “We’ll see how long Denny is going to be out. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll move you back. You’ll even get to call the plays.’ So I gained (129) yards in the first game and that was the end of that.”
Podolak wasn’t wild about the position change, But he gained more than 900 yards over the final six games that season, when Larry Lawrence took over as quarterback. The Northwestern game was Podolak’s fourth at tailback.
“I had a tremendous fullback named Tim Sullivan,” said Ed, who had touchdown runs of 60 and 32 yards in the game. “He was just killing their defensive ends. We ran the same play eight or 10 times. By this time the defensive end was running for the sideline when he saw Tim coming at him.”
The center that day for the Wildcats was Jack Rudnay, one of Podolak’s best friends and also a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.
“The year before that he had played defensive tackle,” Podolak said. “And he begged their coach (Alex Agase) to put him in on defense so he could break my nose. He always says, “You’d never have set that record if they’d let me go in there.’ ”
Podolak played on Atlantic High School teams that won 23 consecutive games under Coach Howard Justice. There were two finalists for Podolak’s college services, Iowa and Iowa State. Justice, a man that Podolak looked up to, was hired as an assistant at Iowa State late in the recruiting process.
“They sent him back (to Atlantic) to get me to go to Iowa State,” Podolak said. “Whitey Piro, an Iowa assistant, kept calling me and calling me. Finally I had to call my coach (Justice) and say, “I’m going to Iowa.’ And I haven’t looked back for a second.”
Podolak threw and ran for 4,214 yards in three seasons at Iowa. Freshmen weren’t eligible in 1965. Ed was drafted by Kansas City in the second round of the 1969 NFL-AFL Draft, the 48th pick overall.
A hamstring injury got his rookie season off to a slow start, but he played special teams later that year when they won Super Bowl IV.
Podolak found his footing soon after. He led the NFL in all-purpose yards in 1970. And he’s best remembered for an AFC Divisional contest, a 27-24 Christmas Day loss to the Miami Dolphins. It remains the longest game in NFL history, at 82 minutes and 40 seconds. Podolak finished with an NFL record 350 total yards - 85 rushing, 110 receiving and 155 in kick returns. He also caught a touchdown pass, and ran for another. It remains one of the greatest individual performances in NFL history.
Podolak retired after the 1977 season, finishing with 4,451 yards rushing and 2,456 yards receiving over his nine seasons. He remains the second-leading rusher in franchise history. His 8,178 yards total yards also remains second in Chiefs history.
Tavian Banks erased Podolak’s single-game rushing record with a 314-yard effort against Tulsa in 1997. Podolak witnessed the moment from his seat in the radio booth alongside play-by-play partner Gary Dolphin, and clapped his hands when Banks passed him.
Podolak feels honored to be in so many halls of fame, and he doesn’t have a favorite.
“They’re all just wonderful,” Podolak said. “But it all goes back to this. I am a Hawkeye.”
If anything best symbolizes that, it came in a photo that ran in the Des Moines Sunday Register the day after Podolak’s record-setting performance against Northwestern. It showed Podolak walking off the field. The game ball was tucked under his left arm. He carried his helmet in front of him. Tape covered his nose. His shoulder ached. And he was smiling.