BOISE, Idaho - The story has become a part of Idaho sports folklore.
It made basketball announcers Billy Packer and Brent Musburger so curious during the NCAA tournament in Boise last spring that they pressed Boise State athletics director Gene Bleymaier for an answer.
Is it true that ducks mistake Bronco Stadium's blue artificial turf for water and plunge to their deaths?
"I'll tell you my standard line and what I told them: I can neither confirm nor deny that report," Bleymaier said this week. "I'll leave it that way."
If Bleymaier is coy, it's because he believes blue turf - the only of its kind in the country - is an important distinguishing mark for Boise State. The turf has been blue the past 15 years, and the orange end zones complete the Broncos' school colors.
Clemson got its first look of the surface dubbed "smurf turf" during practice Thursday morning for the Humanitarian Bowl.
"It's different standing on it. It stands a lot different than green," Tigers coach Tommy Bowden joked. "After a while you don't even really notice it except the first initial impressions. ... When you see it on TV, the first thing you do is adjust your set because your eyes aren't used to seeing that."
Boise State first installed blue turf in 1986, when the Broncos were a Division I-AA football program. They planned to spend more than $500,000 to replace their normal green turf and Bleymaier wanted to get his money's worth.
"It didn't make sense to spend all this money and nobody was going to know it if we replaced green with green," he said. "Our colors are blue and orange, and people obviously know it's not grass, so we're not fooling anybody by making it blue."
Figuring the idea would be scrapped if too many people knew, Bleymaier kept the idea on a need-to-know-basis.
"I wasn't crazy enough to go with the orange, so blue it was," he said. "One of the concerns was how it would hold up to ultraviolet rays and to fading. It turns out, and I didn't know this at the time, blue and green are next to each other on the color spectrum, so there's not much difference to how it reacts."
The original turf was replaced in 1994, and the 7-year-old second carpet has reached its life expectancy. New turf will be installed next summer at a cost between $600,000 and $800,000 - and it will be blue, of course.
Not everyone agrees with the color choice. Mike Prater, a columnist at the Idaho Statesman, argued in a November article that the "smurf turf" is ridiculed nationally and a gimmick that isn't needed any more for attention.
The Broncos moved into Division I-A in 1996 and played in the last two Humanitarian Bowls. They joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2001 and finished tied for second and 8-4 overall.
"The Broncos can win football games until they are blue in the face," Prater wrote, "but the world of big-time college football will never take the Broncos seriously as long as they continue to play on that blue rug."
Bleymaier doesn't believe the turf has been used as a gimmick.
"I think it was a creative use of our school colors and a way to get our school colors prominently displayed," he said. "We looked at it as a novelty and a way to distinguish ourselves from everyone who's out there."
Bleymaier cited an Idaho Statesman poll last month in which 80 percent of the 5,000 respondents voted to keep the blue turf.
In a city and state with little college football tradition, the blue turf has become the most recognizable feature of Boise State football. The stadium gates are left open during business hours, and it's not uncommon for visitors to walk on the turf and take pictures.
Bleymaier said the publicity, tradition and home-field advantage make the turf worth it.
"I hope visiting teams don't feel comfortable," he said. "When you go to Nebraska, Oklahoma or Tennessee, you're going to be hit with some bright colors and you know you're not at home. If they're a little uncomfortable playing on blue, our team loves it."
And if dodging ducks - imaginary or real - is part of the package, so be it.
"I actually did look up every now and then to see if some were flying in," Clemson center Kyle Young said. "I've got my helmet. I'm protected."
Clemson (6-5) vs. Louisiana Tech (7-4)
12:30 p.m., ESPN
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