Lyle's House: 1950-1969

Most Bronco fans associate Boise State football with the current Bronco Stadium. But prior to the construction of the modern stadium in 1970, the Broncos played football in a wooden stadium. That stadium brings back many a fond memory for those who were there at the time. Note: Photo courtesy of Boise State University Library Digital Collections

Bronco Stadium is truly the house that Lyle Smith built.   

Coach Smith took over the helm of the Boise Junior College Broncos in 1947.  Back then, the football games were located at a public football field with bleachers for 1,000 fans.  For high school football games such as those between Boise High and Nampa in the late forties, the bleachers from Boise High were used to increase seating capacity to over 9,500. Then, the football field was located where the current Student Union Building stands.  

But with the growth of Boise during the post-war boom, and BJC's expanding enrollment due to the G.I. Bill, the college was ready for the construction of its own football stadium.  Spurred by the success of the football program under Coaches Lyle Smith and George Blankley, and with teams featuring players Bob Mays, Ed Troxell, Phil Irondiro, Ed Otto, Paul Messick, and Harry Howerton, the Broncos forged a 28-0 record through the 1947-49 seasons capped by the 1949 Potato Bowl victory over Taft Junior College .  Big-time football had arrived in Boise , and the community supported the construction of the wooden stadium with bleacher seats for 10,000 fans.     

The old wooden stadium was situated on a northwest to southeast orientation parallel to the bend of the Boise River , near the edge of Broadway and College (what is now University Drive ---precisely where the heart of tailgating is enjoyed today).  Optimist and Shrine groups typically assisted with parking in the dirt lot, and a chain-link fence encircled the end zones.  A simple scoreboard, denoting time, Home and Visitor scores, down and yards to go, stood in the northwest end zone.  White, H-shaped goal posts stood at the back of the end zones.  Individual horn-style speakers were set on posts towering above the thirty rows of seats.  The locker rooms were located a good distance away, in small wooden structures near the old fieldhouse.  

Fans would enter through one of the four tunnels at the stadium's façade, arriving to the front of the seating, and then walk back up the stairs to their rows.  Save for the cottonwoods by the Boise River , the setting was open and carefree.  Children routinely slipped beneath the bleachers to climb in the jungle gym of support beams and steel poles, to kick the litter of popcorn bags and paper cups.  Boys, still wearing their morning Optimist football game jerseys, would stand at the apron of the end zones, and wait for the Broncos to finish off a scoring drive, just for the chance to slap the shoulder pads or helmet of a favorite player.   

The apex of Lyle Smith's success as a coach was directing the Broncos to the NJCAA championship, built on a dominant running attack around the Wing-T, with a willingness to throw the occasional bomb.  In the NJCAA Championship game of 1958 in Bronco Stadium, the Broncos bested Tyler Junior College before 10,000 fans on a cold and bright November day. Bronco Country poster BJC55, as a player for Coach Smith, remembers the field more than the stadium itself.  In those days, he reminds us, they played with no facemasks, and he remembers that taste of dirt and grass.  BJC55 reports that after one particular dog-pile, where he was on the bottom his face in the mud, he wondered if he'd get out of it alive.  In those days, the names of Tony Park, Elton Robinson, Duane Pierce, and Dick Newby were Bronco lore.  The early ‘60s also saw some of the best players ever to don the Blue and Orange , including NFL Hall of Famer Dave Wilcox and NFL journeyman Jerry Inman.  

The biggest games, however, in the 1960s at the old wooden stadium were the annual Veteran's Day game, with the Borah Lions usually getting the better of the Boise Braves.  The stadium would fill above capacity, and the parking lot was full of floats and decorated cars and buses, bedecked in red and white or green and gold.  Both bands would play together in a tribute in honor of our soldiers, and while Boise had grown big enough for two public high schools, that day always captured the city's small town spirit.  Dick Eardley would be the radio broadcaster for those games, and Borah often used that game to break out new gimmicks as coaches Ed Troxell of Borah and Ed Knecht of Boise tried to outdo one and another.  Bronco Country poster bdransfield remembers that the Lions used a no-huddle offense, confusing even the referees, who blew their whistles for a time out to get a handle on this tactic.  The Veteran's Day game featured great players over the years, including Borah's Steve Preece and Boise 's Kent Scott.  

The old Bronco Stadium also witnessed some of the first major outdoor rock concerts in Idaho in 1968, through sponsorship of KYME 740, broadcasting out of the Hillcrest Shopping Center.  That summer, 5,000 attended concerts performed by the Beach Boys and Caldwell's own, Paul Revere and the Raiders.  

It's also noteworthy that BYU, Utah , Arizona , and Oregon all have, in fact, won games at Bronco Stadium.  Those games were against Idaho , which typically played one game per year in Boise .  The last game Idaho played in the old wooden stadium was in 1969, when they lost to Idaho State 47-42, as the Vandals were unable to contain Ed "The Flea" Bell .  The Broncos bested that same Bengal team in Boise , and thus were able to claim their first unofficial state title.  But through the years, the Vandals actually had a winning record playing in Boise , and up through 1968, it was assumed that one was a BJC and Vandal fan.  Bronco fans then could legitimately cheer for the likes of Jerry Kramer and Ray McDonald playing in Bronco Stadium.   

With the 1966 approval of Boise College as a four-year school, the football program began competing against four-year colleges in 1968.  It marked the appropriate time for Coach Smith to retire as coach and serve as the college's first athletic director.  Coach Smith hired former Vandal teammate Tony Knap who, after being unceremoniously released as the head coach of Utah State , was an assistant coach for the British Columbia Lions of the CFL.  The leap to four-year ball was uncertain, as the Broncos suffered through a 6-4 campaign in their final season as a junior college, even losing to Treasure Valley Community College for the first and only time.  With a slate of new teams, including Weber State and Idaho State on the upcoming 1968 schedule, and with a new coach, many in Boise wondered if the team could even compete.  

The 1968 Broncos, led by quarterback Harold Zimmerman and running back Abe Brown and linebacker Steve Svitak, started the season with a loss at home to Linfield College , an NAIA powerhouse.  Two weeks later, they were embarrassed by Weber State, a team that had been a junior college rival just five years prior.  It appeared that the Broncos weren't in fact ready for the big time.  But then the Broncos reeled off 7 consecutive wins to close the season, including an historic upset over Idaho State.  For 1969, the final season of old wooden stadium, the Broncos went 9-1, losing at home in a close defensive match against Northern Colorado.  For the Broncos that season, Faddie Tillman, Steve Forrey, and Rocky Lima asserted their names in the Bronco history books.  Their great victory of that year was against Idaho State , in which Henry Jenkins' amazing 91-yard punt return outshone Ed Bell's performance.     

But with the Broncos preparing to join the Big Sky Conference, and with both Idaho State and the University of Idaho developing plans for their own state-of-the-art stadiums, Boise State was in sore need of upgrading its junior college athletic facilities.  A new concrete stadium, with AstroTurf field, an upper deck for the west side of the stadium, a press box, and a modern locker-room, was set for the 1970 opener against Chico State .  In the last game to be played in the old wooden stadium, the Broncos defeated the Coyotes of The College of Idaho on November 22, 19 69 , 45-0.   

My own memories are filled with playing beneath the stadium, and rushing to slap the helmet of tiny Gerald "Pudding" Grayson, all 150 pounds of him, after he scored from one-yard out back in 1969.  I'm pretty sure I ran into the path of many current posters, each of us sporting our Optimist jerseys:  Intermountain Gas, Royal Restaurant, Mountain Bell, and Buttrey's.  Each of us, surely, caught up in our own imaginations of playing for Tony Knap someday.    

But I suspect that our own CajunBronco has the sweetest memory of all regarding the old wooden stadium.  He recounts:  "In 1969 I kissed a girl named Kelli at the north end of the stadium when we were 15 years old.  Kelli and I are married and have four kids, the youngest just turned 21.  We were walking by the river after Jessi graduated from Boise State this year, and I had the chance to point out the general location of our first kiss.  By the way, over 40 years later she is still a great kiss."

1964 aerial photo of Bronco Stadium is included with permission from the Boise State University Library Digital Collections. Other use without expressed permission from Boise State is prohibited.

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