Gary Dolphin, Ed Podolak Adjusting to Fall without Iowa Football
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Instead of sitting in his Kinnick Stadium broadcast booth and calling Iowa’s season opener against Northern Iowa Saturday, Gary Dolphin will at home in Dubuque.
His signature phrase, “Touchdown Iowa,” will be on ice. Dolphin will be watching college football on television, and listening to games on the radio. But not Big Ten games.
“In 49 years, I’ve never had a fall where I haven’t covered football in some form or fashion,” said Dolphin, who has been the Hawkeyes’ exclusive play-by-play voice of football and men’s basketball since 1997.
Dolphin’s football sidekick, Ed Podolak, will be hanging out in Colorado.
“It’s weird for me since I always played that first week of September for many years as a Hawkeye,” Podolak said. “This was going to be, or will be hopefully, my 37th year of doing the broadcasts. It’s a different world out there right now. And I hope we can get back to as close to normal as soon as possible.”
The Big Ten Conference has decided to shut down all fall sports due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is really an incredible void for me,” Dolphin said. “I love walking through the parking lot on Saturdays with the tailgaters. The concession stands are open and there’s the smells and sounds. There’s nothing like a September or October in Kinnick Stadium.”
Big Ten football is going to return at some point, Dolphin knows.
“It’s just difficult to watch everything that is going on with the COVID cases spiking,” he said.
Dolphin rides the energy of the crowd when he’s behind the microphone.
“I’ve never done a game in an empty stadium, but I hope I get the chance to do that,” he said. “I’d take that over the alternative, which is nothing. When I sit down to watch and listen to games this weekend, I’m going to be sick to my stomach watching most everybody else play.”
Social media has been the source of story after story hinting that the Big Ten might change course and start playing football in October. Then comes another wave of stories claiming that’s only a pipedream.
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“I’ll just keep looking at that phone, knowing it’s going to ring any minute and someone will say, “Hey, great news,’ ” Dolphin said.
Podolak is holding out hope for kickoffs in October.
“Let’s hope they’ve got some plan and they’re ready to pull the trigger,” said the former Hawkeye Kansas City Chiefs standout. “My plan would be to start in the middle of October and just play the other six teams in your division. You could bus to all those games. Then you’d have a championship game in Indianapolis the first week of December. But nobody has called me for my advice.”
Iowa’s last game was December 27th, 2019. The Hawkeyes pounded Southern California in the Holiday Bowl, 49-24, to finish with a 10-3 record and a four-game winning streak.
“I remember walking out of the stadium after the Holiday Bowl with Eddie, and we were giddy about how good the Hawkeyes looked that night,” Dolphin said. “Yea, we were losing (quarterback) Nate Stanley, we knew A.J. Epenesa would be gone and probably Tristan Wirfs. But Iowa had recruited well. We were excited for this young gun, (quarterback) Spencer Petras, and all those receivers coming back. “
Not to mention the running back position, Dolphin added, with Tyler Goodson back after a breakout freshman season, Mekhi Sargent returning for his senior season and Ivory Kelly-Martin back healthy again.
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“And you know (defensive coordinator) Phil Parker is always going to have an outstanding defense over 12 games,” Dolphin added. “And then to have cold water dumped on you like we have. I don’t want to lessen the tragedy of the deaths and the coronavirus. It’s been devastating to thousands of families around the globe. I’m speaking strictly from a football perspective that there was so much to look forward to.”
Podolak, was also anxious to see Petras behind center.
“I saw him in practice and he really advanced in the last year,” Podolak said. “The wide receiver corps is as good as it’s been under Coach (Kirk) Ferentz. There are a lot of good players on both sides of the ball. I feel sorry for the players, all the hard work they’ve put in. I’ve got to tell you, my heart really goes out to them.”
The sames goes for Ferentz and his coaching staff.
“Like Coach Ferentz keeps saying, this is way above our pay grade as to where this is going,” Podolak said. “I can’t imagine the challenge that the coaching staff is going through right now. And I want to compliment (athletic director) Gary Barta. Just think of having to tackle the problems that he’s faced with. He’s done a terrific job of telling us where he stands and where he thinks we can head.”
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This has been an odd year for Dolphin in many ways. The I-Club circuit that takes him across the state as the master of ceremonies was cancelled. So were many other speaking engagements.
“I’ve been a lonely soul out here in Dubuque County,” he joked.
And now his play-by-play duties have been put on mute as well.
“I’ve always been appreciative of what I’ve had,” he said. “That’s part of living in this state and growing up in small-town Iowa (Cascade). Hopefully you get rewarded. Sometimes you have to wait longer to get your break. It took me 27 years to get my dream job. I grew up listening to Jim Zabel, Bob Brooks, Ron Gonder and the rest. I had a great passion for someday sitting in their chair, and was fortunate enough to get it. And now that it’s gone temporarily, you don’t know how much you miss something until it’s taken away.”
In addition to football, Dolphin has a highly anticipated Iowa men’s basketball season to prepare for.
“I hesitate to even bring it up for fear of what might happen there,” he said. “I felt bad for those kids in March, when they had the rug pulled out from under them, because that team was really hitting their stride and I think they were going to make a good and deep run in the tournament. I love Fran McCaffery and that staff.”
Dolphin also has a chance to do play-by-play for national player of the year candidate Luka Garza, who passed on pro offers to return for his senior season.
“It shows what an unselfish kid he is,” Dolphin said. “Such a team player.”
Dolphin has four stacks of paper on his desk at home, each at least an inch thick, part of his homework for the upcoming football and basketball seasons. He’s itching to share that preparation with his listeners.
“I’m refreshed, reenergized, rip-roaring and ready to go,” he said.