Jim O'Donnell: Brady vs. Fields, OK -- but there's also a young Buccaneer to watch

  • Tampa Bay's Tristan Wirfs celebrates with Barrington's Scotty Miller after Miller's touchdown reception in January's NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.

    Tampa Bay's Tristan Wirfs celebrates with Barrington's Scotty Miller after Miller's touchdown reception in January's NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Associated Press

Updated 10/23/2021 7:48 AM

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH -- Tom Brady over there, Justin Fields over here.

But for NFL deep diggers, the most fascinating player on the field might not be playing QB when the Bears amble down to Tampa Bay Sunday (CBS, 3:25 p.m.; Jim Nantz and Tony Romo).


Instead, it will be Tampa No. 78 -- second-year right tackle Tristan Wirfs.

The NFL accomplishments of the 6-5, 320-pound Iowa grad are already vibrantly impressive.

Last season, after being taken with the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL draft, Wirfs started from Game 1, played all 1,620 snaps through the conclusion of Super Bowl 55 and gave up a lone sack.

That came during the Bucs' bizarre 20-19 loss at Soldier Field in October when Khalil Mack bulldozed into Brady and accented by flipping Wirfs.

Wirfs was also called for only five penalties in 20 games, remarkable for a rookie offensive lineman starting on a Super Bowl champion.

He is playing at the same level this season.

BUT HIS BACK STORY is equally fascinating.

He is from bucolic Mount Vernon, Iowa -- gateway city to Solon.

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According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the town has 4,527 residents.

Prior to Wirts, it touched the national sports radar only once.

That was in 1947 when the local Cornell College interrupted the astounding dominance of Oklahoma A&M -- now Oklahoma State -- to win the one-division NCAA wrestling championship.

Said Scott Hipple of Arlington Heights -- who grew up in Mount Vernon with close chum Reid Hanley of Chicago Tribune Sports renown:

"Really, the Cornell wrestling championship was it until Wirfs. Unless you count the fact that the candy store owner downtown used to let his cat snooze in the popcorn machine."

WIRFS WAS RAISED in a single-parent household by his mother -- Sarah Wirfs.

From age 16 until last November, a span encompassing 28 years, she made the 38-mile round trip to Cedar Rapids to work full-time plus at a Target.

Finally, her millionaire son -- with many more millions likely to come -- convinced her to quit.

Now he won't be quitting against Mack or the Bears at Raymond James Stadium this weekend.


Just trying to keep Tom Brady clean.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Unless you like pulling for long shots that come in.

STREET-BEATIN': Despite all of the civic euphoria over the Sky's WNBA championship, the team's clinching Game 4 victory over Phoenix drew only 417K viewers. (Having Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, Candace Parker and all up against a tough NFL Sunday window that included the Bears-Packers didn't help.) ...

Man allowed mega-emotion as the Sky won was Marc Grossman of Buffalo Grove. He has been the team's official scorer since Game 1 -- 16 years and 287 home games. Daughter Pam Koch has been part of the Sky stats crew since 2006. ...

Bill Wennington missed the Bulls opening radiocast from Detroit because of foot surgery that prevented him from flying. Steve Bardo did a notably commendable job filling in alongside the forever peppy Chuck Swirsky. ...

The Bulls, incidentally, have a private player alumni event set for midweek as a prelude to a tribute to Toni Kukoc during the homer vs. Utah next Saturday night. (Key alums who must be there: Don Kojis, Jawann Oldham, Metta Sandiford-Artest.) ...

Jason Barrett dismissed all speculation that he's chasing the Good Karma market manager slot at ESPN AM-1000. A prime candidate remains Ryan Maguire, a well-traveled pro who is currently at the challenged station as executive producer of the White Sox radio network. ...

Also on AM-1000, Don Weiland reports that dormant David Kaplan has resurrected some weak sports variant of the old Larry Lujack/Tommy Edwards classic "Animal Stories." Maybe next ol' Kappy can do some big-band remotes from The Edgewater Beach Hotel. ...

From the mouth of an expert: "The Blackhawks' ongoing embarrassment is measurably more than expected." (Fourth-generation Danny Wirtz can quickly improve the fan experience by slapshotting Stan Bowman out of the "312.") ...

Despite the team's anemic start, Hawks hearts were buoyed by the appearance of Troy Murray at morning skate Thursday. It was the first time the well-liked broadcast mainstay has been around the team since being diagnosed with cancer in August. ...

It took close to two weeks for a response, but slow-draw Tonya Abeln of Churchill Downs Inc. finally confirmed that Anthony "Press Box" Petrillo is still working at Arlington Park. Snoop-prone say that CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen currently has bigger fish to fry in Illinois. ...

Also ovaling, veteran racing secretary Gary Duch keeps popping up as a top target of a group looking to do some fresh business in The Land o' Winkin'. Duch has turned down the role at least twice at Arlington Park in recent years because of the toxic front office. ...

And savvy Bob Tomaso, on the NHL's newest team: "It's still going to take a while to remember that 'Seattle Kraken' isn't some kind of fishy new-mill popcorn."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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