The 12,000-pound model of the states most famous export traveled more than 16,500 miles this year.
The big spud truck didnt ascend the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum made famous by Rocky Balboa, but it got as close to them as possible.
It also stopped at the Space Center in Houston. Astronaut Clayton Anderson did an honorary walk atop the giant tuber, noting that America now has its own Spudnik.
The massive potato stopped for a photo-op at the St. Louis Arch and visited Hunts Point in the Bronx, a tough neighborhood thats one of the largest food distribution points in the world. It stopped at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Even the Today show took note, airing a feature on the spud when it stopped at Pasadenas famous and similarly scaled 18-foot fork in the road monument a giant fork piercing the pavement. The potato visited a giant pistachio in New Mexico.
The Potato Commission unveiled the big spud at last years Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Local fans got a chance to welcome it home at Bronco Stadium on Saturday. The commission is two years into a six-year contract to sponsor the bowl game.
The success of the cross-country trip, which marked the Idaho Potato Commissions 75th anniversary, was beyond our wildest imagination, said commission head Frank Muir.
All the humor that came from the sight of a giant potato on wheels aside, the trip had a serious mission: promoting potatoes as healthy vegetables rich in fiber and potassium.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, questioning potatoes nutritional content, had considered removing them from school lunches. The big spuds stop in Washington in June included a visit to USDA headquarters.
We pulled up in front, honked the bullhorn, and people came pouring out of their offices to see it, said Muir.
Potatoes remain on lunch menus. Muir now would like to see potatoes approved for the Women, Infants and Children food program. They are currently banned.
The trip also raised money for the national and local Meals on Wheels program. The commission donated $100,000 to the national program last year.
And anyone who visited the tuber at the game Saturday got to sign a signature wall. The commission will donate $1 for every signature to the local Elks Meals on Wheels program, up to $2,500.
What fantastic support from an Idaho organization, and it is such an appropriate tie-in for nutritious meals for senior citizens, said Grant Jones, the programs development director.
AN ENCORE JOURNEY
The trip was such a success the commission will send the spud out again.
Weve been getting requests for it to appear. Retailers want it at the opening of all their stores, said Muir.
The big potato likely will depart from Boise in the spring and be on the road for about four months.
The budget is still a work in progress. The price tag for the 2012 tour, which included hiring Weiser fabricators Chris Schofield and Sharolyn Spruce to build the steel-frame spud, was about $800,000. The budget for the shorter, encore tour will be considerably less.
The spud crew, which included a driver and two Boise State graduates to handle social media, make videos and do interviews, had to get adept at fixing small cracks and scratches the potato suffered on the open road.
There were a few surprises, including getting pulled over by police a few times. Not because the driver was breaking the law, but because the law wanted pictures with the potato.
One night, somewhere in the Midwest, the crew returned to the truck after dinner to find it surrounded by squad cars. One of the officers had his hands extended like he was holding a gun. It was a camera. His fellow officers were taking turns climbing up on the potato while he snapped photos.
The biggest surprise? The number of people across the U.S., including TV news reporters, who asked whether the 11.5-foot potato was real.
Everyone wanted it to be real so badly, said Muir.
Anna Webb: 377-6431