FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 1971, SPORTS
Copyright 1971/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Football’s Super Chief
PHOENIX — Everywhere you look down here at the Astrojet tournament, there is an athletic immortal. Hall of Fame baseball player? Well, there’s Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson. Brooks Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are also here.
In football, Leroy Kelly, John Unitas, and Deacon Jones are around.
And, then, of course, there’s Ed Podolak.
Most autograph seekers look first to see if he’s carrying a broom. Or a set of somebody’s golf sticks. Ed Podolak is not exactly a household word in sports. “Exactly what is it you do, Mr. Podolak?” is often heard at the better cocktail parties.
Not even when he says he’s with the Kansas City Chiefs do the celebrity-seekers’ eyes light up. You can see them groping to remember whether he’s the assistant backfield coach, the trainer — or maybe he just drives Lamar Hunt around.
Now, Mike Garrett is a bonafide Sport Magazine cover type. A Heisman Trophy winner, an All-American, “Can-I-have-your-autograph, Mr. Garrett?” type. Ed Podolak was always a “Who’s-that-with-Mike Garrett?” type. Even the wives might ask after a phone call “Do we know an Ed Podolak?”
Ed Podolak was a quarterback at Iowa in his college days. Quarterbacks at Iowa usually become defensive backs in Canada — or car salesmen at Sioux City. If there’s one thing that distinguishes Iowa quarterbacks, it’s the fact that they can’t throw or run or block. Usually, they’re just kind of complicated waiters. They order up the ball and then they hand it to somebody. They’re great for the Big Ten but the NFL draft usually goes right by them on the way to Grambling or Penn State or even VMI.
So, when the Kansas City Chiefs wasted a high draft choice on Ed Podolak, the league thought coach Hank Stram saw something in the picture that might indicate Ed Podolak would make a nice messenger to run in plays.
When he made him a running back, the league went into shock. Here was a team which already had Mike Garrett, Robert Holmes and two or three other guys who could do the hundred in 10-flat carrying an anvil.
Podolak was not even big — barely 200 pounds. He was not fast. In a good restaurant, his customers might walk out. As a quarterback, he never put anybody in mind of Sammy Baugh.
Kansas City has always had one of the most sophisticated offensive teams in the league. But what they saw in the films of Ed Podolak indicated to their scouts, “Doesn’t go down when hit,” or “Could gain on the German Army.”
Ed Podolak was injured his first year with the Chiefs. Usually, when Big Ten quarterbacks get injured in the NFL, they put them in a taxi and tell ’em to cruise the stadium for the next 10 years or so. But the Chiefs kept Ed Podolak around.
They put Ed on the “special” teams. In the NFL, “special” means “ho-hum.” These guys who make up the bomb squads who run back kicks, do goal line stands, or field-goal blocking. The gut work, in other words. The fireplace cleans, the chimney sweeps of football.
But Ed Podolak began to run the football past people. He was as hard to find as a collar button.
This past year, Ed Podolak was so good, after a few games, the Chiefs dealt Mike Garrett off for a kind word to the San Diego Chargers. The press was shocked. The defensive linemen around the league weren’t.
Ed Podolak gained 750 yards running out of Hank Stram’s I-formation and variations thereof. That would be a lot of ground for a 230-pound, 9.5 sprinter. It’s 100 more than Leroy Kelly, for example, rolled up. It put Podolak neck-and-neck with the league leaders and it put the Chiefs within a first down of the Super Bowl.
And it put Ed Podolak in this tournament down here with most of the registered super-athletes of our time. It changed him from “Who is Ed Podolak?” to “Where is Ed Podolak?” And for 100 scouts, the refrain went from “Why did they draft him?” to “Why didn’t we draft him?”
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.
Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole. An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.
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