Sept. 14, 2006
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -Twenty years after the Smurf Turf made its debut, Boise State's blue football field remains an eye-catcher.
And that's exactly what Gene Bleymaier hoped for when he came up with the idea of dying the artificial turf at Bronco Stadium.
"I guess that I'm the type of person that when I paint my house I paint it a different color so the neighbors notice you did something," said Bleymaier, in his 24th year as Boise State's athletic director.
Bleymaier was the driving force behind Boise State's blue football field, which has grown into a tourist attraction rivaling potatoes for popularity in Idaho. Twenty years ago Wednesday, Boise State played its first game on the field with a 74-0 rout of Humboldt State.
Two decades later, the only non-green field is the subject of rumors and myths, opposition complaints, and pride for Boise State's players.
"This is our house," linebacker Korey Hall said. "It is kind of statement that is kind of cool and there's nothing else like it."
Having a pretty good football team helps, too. Since the first incarnation of The Blue - as the locals call it - the Broncos are 110-30 at home, 40-2 since 2000.
Bleymaier brainstormed the idea flying home from the NCAA convention in January 1986 and decided if the school was going to pay $750,000 for a new playing surface, it was going to be blue.
"I was just thinking about what we could do and how disappointed I was going to be if we just put in another green field we had seen for 15 years," Bleymaier said.
With the idea in hand, Bleymaier's next trick was getting university approval. He went straight to then president John Keiser and presented his plan, highlighting that a blue field would give the school some notoriety and an unusual home-field advantage.
Keiser went along with Bleymaier's idea and the pair kept the plan quiet until the day it was announced to the public. This was not a proposal the duo wanted available for debate.
"I knew that I couldn't talk about it because it would get blown out of the water. I would not get the support," Bleymaier said. "Really, it was kept pretty much between him and me until we actually announced it. Then, of course, there was all sorts of reaction."
Not much was positive, initially. Many began referring to the field as "Lake Bleymaier." On the night of the first game - where an orange and blue football was used for the kickoff - then Idaho Statesman columnist Jim Poore wrote, "The creature from the blue lagoon did not pop out of the AstroTurf and gobble up both teams, the cheerleaders and Buster Bronco, proving once and for all that Lake Bleymaier is nothing more than a good promotional idea."
Poore was correct, it has been good promotion. The blue turf gained a national audience when the school began hosting a bowl game in 1997. More attention arrived when the Broncos' joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2001, climbed into the Top 25 and started playing regularly on national television.
Recruits are often lured by the chance to play on the blue turf. Some opponents believe its an unfair advantage, saying the blue turf and the Broncos' blue uniforms are camouflage. The field is also the anchor of the school's "Beyond the Blue" marketing campaign, highlighting Boise State's academics.
The current field is the third blue surface. Twenty years after its debut, no one can envision a green field returning.
"I can't tell you how many times we get knocks on the door, with people saying, 'I'm from out of town, I'm here for the weekend, I've got to walk on the blue turf,"' Bleymaier said.