BOISE — Stuck with an $800,000 expense that nobody would see or care about, former Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier came up with a crazy idea.
Needing to replace the turf inside then-Bronco Stadium, Bleymaier was on a flight back to Boise in January of 1986 when it hit him.
“There’s really no reason that it has to be green,” Bleymaier thought. “Everybody already knows it is fake.”
Wanting to make a splash and get the most bang for his buck, Bleymaier went to then-Boise State president John Keiser with the idea. The two decided to go for it, but knew they had to keep it a secret until the official announcement was made.
“We couldn’t tell anybody because we knew it was far out and probably would not be well embraced at first,” Bleymaier said in a Bronco Legends Podcast interview last summer. “I knew people would think it was crazy and there’s be a lot of critics. I wanted to call a press conference quickly and announce it and make it clear the decision had been made and there wasn’t going to be a debate.”
Six months later, Bleymaier sat scared inside the stadium as the first roll was unveiled.
“I was nervous about the color blue because the company had never done it before so they couldn’t show me an exact sample of what it was going to look like,” Bleymaier said. “I went to the paint store and realized there were about 200 shades of blue and 175 of them weren’t real attractive. I was real nervous.
“I remember being out there, early July, and it was about 105 degrees one afternoon, and nobody was out there. The stadium was completely empty except for the turf crew and I went into the stands and sat there and said some prayers that the first row of turf would look OK. When they rolled out that first five yards I took a huge sigh of relief and said ‘I think this is going to be OK.’”
More than 30 years later, the blue turf at Boise State remains one of the most iconic features in all of college sports. Thousands of visitors come from around the world each year to view the turf, and the Broncos have used the national notoriety to help them become the winningest program in college football history.
And Bleymaier is finally getting the recognition he deserves. The former athletic director was announced Thursday as one of six members of Boise State’s 2020 Hall of Fame class.
Bleymaier and the other five — Korey Hall (football), Emma Bates (women’s track and field), Ben Cherrington (wrestling), Kurt Felix (men’s track and field) and Luke Shields (men’s tennis) — will be inducted at a ceremony tentatively scheduled for Sept. 4, the night before Boise State’s home football opener against Georgia Southern.
“I’m honored and very excited to be included in this Hall of Fame class and when I look at the athletes I am going in with, it’s who’s who in Boise State athletics,” Bleymaier told KTIK radio Thursday. “These guys are the best in their field and I’m just honored to be part of it.”
Bleymaier did a lot more than just create the blue turf. During his 30 years as athletic director from 1982-2011, Bleymaier helped the Broncos transition to FBS football, he brought the now-Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to Boise and he led the construction of more than $125 million in athletic facilities.
Twice Bleymaier earned national Athletic Director of the Year honors.
“I was very fortunate,” Bleymaier told KTIK. “We were at the right place at the right time. So many things had to come together. We had great community support, great coaching and a great staff and we all worked together and the magic came out of that. We were just very, very fortunate. It took everybody in the athletic department, everybody at the university and everybody in the community.”
Hall was the 2006 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the WAC All-Decade Team and a three-time first-team All-WAC selection. The linebacker helped the Broncos to an undefeated season and a win in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma.
Cherrington won the NCAA title in 2006 at 157 pounds and went 20-0 during his senior season.
Bates was twice named the Mountain West Female Athlete of the Year and won the national title in the 10,000 meters at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field championships.
Shields was a three-time All-American and was the 2007 WAC men’s Tennis Player of the Year and left Boise State as the all-time leader in singles (118) and doubles victories (106).
Felix was the 2011-12 Mountain West Male Athlete of the Year after winning the national title in the decathlon at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He won seven conference championships and was a three-time All-Academic honoree.
Boise State inducted its first class to the Hall of Fame in more than a decade in 2018, and the plan is to induct a new class every two years. More details on the induction ceremony, including the opportunity to purchase tickets, will be released at a later date.