They’re a lot of talk … but Iowa Hawkeyes’ broadcasters know their business, too.

August 31, 2022 8:00 am

Cutting up with the Podolaks. Left to right are Ed Podolak, columnist Chuck Offenburger, Charley Podolak and Betty Podolak Ward. Ed Podolak and Offenburger have known each other since the early 1960s in southwest Iowa, when Ed was a star athlete at Atlantic High School and Offenburger was the boy sportswriter for The Evening Sentinel in rival town Shenandoah. (Photo by Mary Riche)

DES MOINES A dozen years of experience has proved that if you gather the Iowa Hawkeyes radio broadcasting team in front of an audience at the Iowa State Fair, put me up there with them and give us microphones, the good folks in front of us are going to get an earful.

Football color commentator Ed Podolak, basketball color commentator Bobby Hansen, the play-by-play “Voice of the Hawkeyes” Gary Dolphin, and I are officially there as judges of “Mother Podolak’s Chili Contest.” But always, the storytelling starts up and, oh, do we meander.

First things first here: Ed’s late mother Dorothy Podolak was famous at tailgate parties for her chili. So in this contest – sponsored by West Des Moines business magnate and Podolak friend Gary Kirke – we are always “looking for chili as good as Mom’s.” The top prize of $500 draws a lot of good chili makers.  The best in this year’s contest on Aug. 17 was Patrick Conlan, of Pleasant Hill, with his “Trifecta Chili” – three cuts of meat, three kinds of beans.  Trifecta perfecta!

The winner of the 2022 “Mother Podolak’s Chili Contest” at the Iowa State Fair was Patrick Conlan (left), shown here with Podolak siblings Ed, Betty and Charley. (Photo by Mary Riche)

This gathering turned into a Podolak family reunion.  With Dolphin away in Great Britain, leading a golf tour group, Ed Podolak summoned his sister Betty Podolak Ward, of St. Louis, to come help judge chili.  And then brother Charley Podolak, another former Hawkeye athlete, flew in from Aspen, Colo.

“The three of us hadn’t been together since Mom’s funeral in Atlantic in 2008,” Betty said. “We’re actually very close, and talk to each other on the phone all the time, but it hadn’t worked out for all three of us to be in the same place for a long time.”  Their dad, Joe Podolak, died in 2007.

There are four stories I want to share from my latest couple hours with this fun gang.

The moment when Ed Podolak decided football was his future

The Podolaks started life on a hardscrabble 80-acre farm, seven miles south of Atlantic in southwest Iowa.

“We share-cropped, milked cows, scooped manure, rode the school bus, then came home after school to do chores again,” said Ed, who turns 75 on Thursday and now bases in West Des Moines.

“We weren’t poor, and we had plenty to eat, but we didn’t have a lot. I was in fourth grade before we got a TV set. That’s when I saw the ‘Mousketeers’ for the first time. In their TV show, they were out on the beach in southern California. Do you remember Annette Funicello? That was the day I decided I wasn’t going to be staying on that little farm, and I started playing football.”

He found a game that would make him a superstar at Atlantic High School, the University of Iowa, an all-pro Super Bowl champion with the Kansas City Chiefs, and for 40 years now the color commentator for radio broadcasts of the Iowa Hawkeyes football games.

The first autograph Bobby Hansen asked for as a kid

Bobby Hansen, ready for chili. (Photo by Mary Riche)

He’s 61 now, commuting as needed from a rural home a short drive west of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. And Bobby Hansen clearly appreciates the good life that sports has given him.

He was an All-State basketball player at Dowling Catholic High School of West Des Moines, went on to star for the Iowa Hawkeyes, became a solid back-up player in the NBA, helped the Chicago Bulls win a NBA championship, and for 30 years has been the color commentator for radio broadcasts of Hawkeye basketball games.

“Guess which sports star gave me the first autograph I ever got as a kid,” Bobby said out of the blue as we were passing chili.

“Old No. 14, sitting right over there – Ed Podolak! He’d had a great start with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he was back in Des Moines for some event and was signing autographs at one of the stores.  I was a 9-year-old kid, stood in that line and then stepped up there for his autograph.  Ed Podolak became my first sports hero.”

You can help salute the Hawks’ broadcasters Sept. 16

Podolak and Hansen began their careers in color commentary for U of I games with the late, legendary Jim Zabel on play-by-play. Dolphin, 71, who bases in Peosta west of Dubuque, took over in 1997 when Zabel retired. The upcoming seasons mark 25 or more years that the network has had Dolphin & Podolak on football, Dolphin & Hansen on basketball.

That’s worth celebrating, and a big crowd of loyal Hawkeye fans are going to do that on Friday evening, Sept. 16, the night before a home football game against the University of Nevada.

A new non-profit organization, “The Iowa Swarm Collective,” which takes its name from “the swarm” of Hawkeye football players who trot out on the field together to get ready for their games, is hosting a big-dollar reception “to honor (and roast)” the radio broadcasting threesome’s 25 years together on-air. In fact, organizers hope this event in Iowa City might be a million-dollar fundraiser.

All proceeds are going to fund “NIL opportunities” – those are ways college athletes can benefit financially from use of their name, image and likeness – for Hawkeyes playing football, women’s basketball or men’s basketball.  Specifically, the Swarm Collective would compensate those athletes for participating “in events to serve and raise funds for local charities and non-profits.” Co-chairs are Jim Carney, a Des Moines attorney and Hawkeye booster, and former Hawkeye football star Lon Olejniczak.

For reservations and more information: 

This broadcast team knows business

Their sports credentials and longevity doing Hawkeye games aren’t the only distinctions about the Hawkeye radio team.

Until 2019, Dolphin had a full-time day job as vice-president for business development for U.S. Bank in Dubuque.

Ed Podolak, Charley Podolak and Hansen are all graduates in business from the U of I.  Ed and Charley, who is now 73, have been very successful in property development and management, Charley especially so in residential real estate sales in Colorado. Hansen found success in the insurance industry and is now a Cedar Rapids-based director of the Better Business Bureau of Iowa.

All three former athletes say they were especially inspired and directed by former business school professors and deans Ernie Zuber and Emmett Vaughan.

Was it common for big-time athletes back then to major in the rigorous business field?  Why’d they get into that?

“You know, college was different back then,” Hansen told our State Fair audience when I asked those questions. “I mean, when I got to Iowa City, I never had $5 in my pocket for a haircut.  I knew I wanted to study something that would wind up getting me a good-paying job.”

Ed Podolak said “when I went to school, my major emphasis was ‘get a degree.’ I hoped I might have some time in pro football, but remember that back then, pro sports weren’t paying nearly what they do now. I was fortunate to play nine years, but the most I made in a year during my time with the Kansas City Chiefs was $90,000.”

Charley Podolak said that as he studied business administration, “it always seemed like a much better profession than farming.”

The Podolaks’ sister Betty Ward, who is now 70, was also very career-focused when she took professional secretary courses at Iowa Western Community College, then landed a job as a flight attendant and for 10 years flew all over the nation. After marrying, she became a contracted recruiter, finding employees to fill technical and managerial positions for companies across the nation. Aiming high in business, she said, “was the way all three of us were raised. Our mother was an educator, a really good teacher, and she always loved travel. She encouraged us that way.  We left the farm and never looked back.”

I asked Dolphin, the play-by-play guy and former bank vice-president, to give me a banker’s kind of assessment of his Hawkeye sports color commentators.

“They’re common-sense Iowa guys,” Dolphin said of Ed Podolak and Hansen. “Both played nine years pro, one’s a Super Bowl champion, the other has an NBA ring, and both were stars at Iowa.  They parlayed those incredible athletic careers into business success as real estate developers, in insurance sales and as outstanding analysts on the Hawkeye Radio Network.

“The one thread that binds the two of them is honest, common-sense insight. Whether the play is good or bad, they don’t get personal, they explain why it unfolded the way it did, and what needs to be done for improvement.  Just like in everyday business – work to get better and work to improve the bottom-line numbers.

“The listeners appreciate their honesty and candor,” Dolphin concluded. “I hear that all the time.”

About this column

This column first appeared at the “Iowa Boy Chuck Offenburger” blog and is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Contact Offenburger at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Please consider subscribing to the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative and authors’ blogs to support their work.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Chuck Offenburger
Chuck Offenburger

Chuck Offenburger, of Jefferson and Des Moines, has been writing about Iowans for 62 years (he started as a sportswriter when he was 13 in his hometown of Shenandoah). He’s been wearing his trademark black & white saddle shoes even longer than that. For 26 years, he wrote the “Iowa Boy” column and other stories for the Des Moines Register. He was co-host of RAGBRAI – the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – for 16 of those years. He was also well-known for his coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1990 & ’91, the career of Iowa-born opera great Simon Estes, and his Top Ten rankings of Iowa’s best cinnamon rolls. He writes the "Iowa Boy Chuck Offenburger" blog and is a member of the Iowa Writers' Collaborative.