BOISE, Idaho — Gene Bleymaier goes into the Boise State Athletics Hall of Fame in October, and frankly, it’s about danged time.
Bleymaier, then the Bronco athletic director, had one of the greatest ideas in the history of marketing. In 1986, with Boise State football in need of a new artificial turf, Bleymaier’s mind melded necessity and opportunity.
Why not have the manufacturers make the field blue?
“It was genius,” said current Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey.
Love the blue turf or hate the blue turf — and there are legions of football fans on each side — no one can deny that Bleymaier’s instincts were correct.
OSU makes its first football venture into Idaho, playing the Broncos at 8 p.m. Saturday in Albertsons Stadium, and the Mountain West Conference school is known coast to coast for a variety of reasons. Hard-nosed football. Success that includes three Fiesta Bowl victories in the last 15 years. And that blue turf.
OSU tailback LD Brown’s eyes lit up last Saturday, when he was reminded where he’d be playing football a week later.
“Really looking forward to the uniform combination we’re going to have,” Brown said. He began politicking OSU equipment coordinator Justin Williams for the flamboyantly fashioned Cowboys to wear black in Boise.
“Want to see what he’s going to put us out there on the blue turf,” Brown said. “I want see what the black looks like on blue.”
Cowboy defensive Tyler Lacy’s interest was more personalized.
“Wonder … if I look good on the blue turf?” Lacy asked.
Football fans from all over stop by Albertsons Stadium throughout the year to check out the blue turf. Boise State’s athletic hall of fame is built into the southwest corner of the stadium. Visitors can access the hall of fame from outside the stadium, then on the other side step onto a plaza that allows fans to look out over the blue turf.
Thursday afternoon, three middle-aged men from Las Vegas were taking pictures of the blue turf. They said they were 20-year Boise State fans and had always wanted to see a game there. Saturday is the game.
“It's part of our identity,” Dickey said. “It differentiates us.”
No doubt about that. The blue turf has impacted football on every level.
A few other schools have gone to non-green turf — Eastern Washington’s red, Central Arkansas’ purple, Coastal Carolina’s teal, Eastern Michigan’s gray — and the National Football League instituted a rule against non-green turf. It’s called the Boise Rule.
In 2011, the Mountain West ruled that the Broncos couldn’t wear blue jerseys at home.
Cowboy quarterback Spencer Sanders understands the rule.
"Yeah, that’s one’s going to be weird,” Sanders said. “If they’re going to wear blue jerseys, that’s going to be a pain in my tail.”
The Mountain West rescinded the rule after one year, as Boise State mounted a serious protest. Perhaps the Broncos pointed out that Mountain West members Colorado State and Hawaii have green as their primary colors, and last anybody looked, the Rams and the Rainbow Warriors play on green turf.
Dickey likens it to the scene in “Hoosiers,” when the Gene Hackman character walks into the historic fieldhouse with a tape measure and shows his team the rims are 10 feet off the ground. Same as back home.
The Boise State turf is the same as artificial surfaces all over America. Except its blue.
It’s a lot of blue. Albertsons Stadium once had a track around the football field, so the sidelines are quite wide. Boise State expanded the blue turf to cover the entire grounds.
One myth to dispel: ducks do not crash into the turf, believing it to be water. At least that’s what the locals say, though former coach Chris Petersen once claimed to have found a dead duck on the field.
Around Boise, the stadium is simply called “The Blue.” It’s a fit description.
And Boise State — a relatively new university; it was a junior college until 1968 — has been lauded for its academic innovation. U.S. News & World Report a couple of years ago listed Boise State among the nation’s most innovative schools.
Boise State’s catchphrase for that brand? Blue turf thinking.
A little innovation couldn’t hurt the OSU offense, which has struggled through two games. The Cowboys trot onto the blue turf Saturday night, hopefully thinking not so much about how they’ll look on the blue, but how they’ll play.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Boise State's blue turf was a genius idea for the Broncos' brand