He breezed into the backdoor of Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was just Ed. No posse or handlers. This was Ed and Ed alone. He flew in from Aspen, Colo., to meet family in Atlantic and stop in Iowa City. It was time for a personal (ultra-personal) update and time to face up to Facebook.
Twenty-five pounds lighter, Podolak, 61, smiled, shook hands and basically was Ed.
Saturday, the Iowa football radio analyst for the last 28 seasons talked about his fight with alcohol and the internet photos that triggered his retirement, treatment for alcohol abuse and, finally, return to the Iowa radio booth.
“I want to start by saying what a pleasure it is to be back associated with the University of Iowa and the football program and the broadcasts,” said Podolak, a former Iowa all-American running back and Kansas City Chief. “It’s been such an important part of my life for so long.
“The thought of being away from it was just too much to bear.”
Podolak characterized the internet photos that kicked off life re-evaluation as a “godsend.”
In January, shortly after Iowa’s appearance in the Outback Bowl, three pictures of Podolak, including one in which he is looking down the blouse of an unidentified woman and another in which he appears to be intoxicated, made the rounds.
Podolak said the photos were embarrassing to him, the UI and the football program.
“It caused a real change in my attitude as to how I was living,” he said.
He said he jumped into the decision to retire prematurely, Podolak admitted Saturday. He heard from several supporters, friends, family, members of the UI community — head coach Kirk Ferentz and play-by-play voice Gary Dolphin, Podolak’s partner in the booth for the last 12 years.
“I decided to take a personal inventory and I wasn’t pleased with what I saw,” Podolak said. “I was overusing and abusing alcohol. It’s what led to the riotous incident in Tampa. There were other incidents like that. I think it was causing a stressful situation with some family relationships, work relations and physical condition.
“So, I decided to take action. I compare it to going in for a 60,000-mile tuneup. Rust never sleeps and I was getting rusty. And alcohol was a good part of the blame for it.”
Podolak went through six weeks of primary treatment at “a very well-known center that I’d just as soon not involve.” He talked Saturday of spiritual awakening and daily life plans.
He declined to say how long he’s been sober, but said it’s been ”a number of” months.
“I’m alcohol abstinent at this point and it’s my goal to stay that way,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the early mornings more than I have for a long time. My energy is at a very high level and I’m just enjoying every little part of this phase of my life.”
After his primary treatment, Podolak contacted Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and started dialogue on a return to radio. Podolak said the basic sentiment from his support system after he announced his retirement was, “Ed, are you sure you’re thinking straight?”
“When I took a step back and thought it through, I wasn’t thinking straight,” he said.
His desire to return was never fueled out of embarrassment or writing his own ending. He knows he can be replaced. He wanted to return to “a part of my heart and soul.”
“The incident, which I feel is almost a Godsend,” Podolak said. “It did shake me into examining where I was. It’s been nothing but positive for everything. I’m really looking forward to the future.”
Podolak said alcohol grew in prominence in his life last fall out of “boredom.” He pulled out of a business venture and filled that void with what led up to the Tampa incident.
“There wasn’t the thrill in my life and I was seeking to find it a different way,” he said. “You’d probably plan it a different way (than the photo/internet incident) if you were going to make this lifestyle change, but it was time.”
Podolak said his return doesn’t come with any conditions that any other Iowa radio talent has in their contract with Learfield Communications, which holds the rights to the UI’s radio broadcasts. Podolak’s contract is with Learfield, but the UI has a say on the talent.
“Nobody’s happier than I am to have him back,” Dolphin said Saturday. “I’m smart enough to know he makes me better.”
Podolak is aware of what’s ahead. There is a drinking culture that wraps itself around an Iowa football weekend. Fans are in that mode. Podolak’s Friday nights certainly included a drinking element.
When Podolak attended Iowa in the late ’60s, he said the alcohol culture was much different than today. He claimed he didn’t drink while playing at Iowa and didn’t start drinking heavily until he reached his 30s.
That’s the experience he’s looking back to as he heads into the 2009 season.
“I plan on going to dinner with some friends, as I have in the past,” he said. “Obviously, the celebration will be at a different level.”
Dolphin said Podolak won’t change his pregame/Friday night routines. Podolak doesn’t want people fawning over him. The two had a dinner recently and Dolphin reported Podolak enjoyed two Diet Cokes and an iced tea.
“Granted, that’s one night, one event,” Dolphin said. “There’s are going to be changes on my part. And I know the public will respect Eddie when he’s at his favorite spots here in town. He won’t be there as often as he used to be, but I have no doubt he’ll meet it head on.”
A search for Podolak’s replacement was halted a week after he announced his retirement in January. There were phone calls, but nothing formal. Some of the names that came up, Dolphin said, included former Hawkeyes Chuck Hartlieb, Marv Cook, Eric Thigpen, Grant Steen, Ed Hinkel, Tim Dwight, Chuck Long and Mike Saunders among others.
“Almost to a man, the most famous names in Iowa football for the last 25 years, everyone of them said, ‘I hope there’s a chance Ed reverses his decision. I wouldn’t mind mind being the guy to replace Ed Podolak someday, but not now,’ ” Dolphin said. “That was almost a uniform response.”