By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – About two weeks ago, I had considered writing a column praising members of the Iowa football team for being well-behaved.
With exception to Brandon Snyder’s arrest for drunken driving in December, there had been virtually no serious transgressions involving Iowa football players for an extended period.
Former cornerback Manny Rugamba was suspended for the 2017 season opener, but that was for violating an undisclosed team policy and didn’t involve the police. Rugamba has since left the program and announced this past week that he would to transfer to Miami of Ohio.
The degree in which players get into trouble with the law is cyclical, so I figured two weeks ago was an appropriate time to recognize Iowa’s stretch of good behavior because it could, and probably would, change at some point.
And did it ever.
In the span of one week, Iowa has had two players arrested for alcohol-related offenses, the most recent being 19-year old sophomore offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs being charged with drunken driving early Sunday morning in Iowa City.
His arrest came barely one week after junior defensive lineman Brady Reiff was charged with public intoxication in Iowa City.
Two arrests certainly doesn’t indicate a trend or suggest that something is amiss within the Iowa football program. But two arrests in one week is nothing to dismiss, either.
My timing would have left much to be desired if I had written a column two weeks ago praising the Iowa players for their behavior. So I'm glad that I didn't get around to writing it, I guess.
It just shows that you can never assume anything when you’re dealing with a large group of student-athletes who are living on their won for the first time.
The good news is that nobody was injured as a result of either transgression.
Reiff was charged with public intoxication after he reportedly mistook a police car for an Uber driver.
He has since been suspended for the Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
Wirfs will undoubtedly be suspended for at least one game based on how Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has handled previous drunken driving cases involving his players.
The circumstances in the cases involving Wirfs and Snyder are different in one respect, though, because Wirfs is under the legal drinking age.
Wirfs was also arrested just one week after Reiff had embarrassed the program, so Ferentz’s patience and tolerance is being tested.
And most importantly, Wirfs was driving under the influence.
You could make a strong case that he deserves more than a one-game suspension because drunken driving is far more serious than being drunk in public.
There is a part of me that wonders why the police officers who handled Reiff’s arrest didn’t help him instead of arrest him simply because Reiff wasn’t driving.
But I also wasn’t present for the arrest, so it’s impossible to know how Reiff interacted with the police.
Given the events over the past week, Iowa’s preseason practice, which starts next Friday, can’t get here soon enough.
I’m not naïve enough to think that players don’t consume alcohol during the season. But the start of practice will at least serve as a deterrent, especially preseason practice where it’s nothing but football pretty much around the clock.
Wirfs should consider himself very lucky due to the fact that nobody was injured. The Mount Vernon native dodged a bullet that could’ve changed lives forever.
I know how he feels because I showed the same poor judgment on Jan. 4, 1987 when I was arrested for drunken driving at the age of 23 in my hometown of Des Moines. I was four years older than Wirfs, and yet, still made the same stupid and selfish choice to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Luckily, nobody was injured and I haven’t driven under the influence since that horrible night more than 31 years ago.
I’ve certainly had my share of alcohol since being arrested in 1987, but not when it involved driving.
The two are easy to keep separate if you just make smart and careful decisions and remember that it only takes one time of being unlucky while driving under the influence to change lives forever.
My hope is that Wirfs learns from his mistake and is punished severely enough, not just by Iowa, but also by the law, to avoid doing it again.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Wirfs is considered one of the bright, young stars on the Iowa team as a true sophomore. He became the first true freshman to start at either tackle position under Kirk Ferentz and is listed as the starting right tackle heading into the 2018 season.
Senior Dalton Ferguson, who is a walk-on from Solon, is listed as Wirfs’ backup at right tackle.
Wirfs’ absence will be felt on the field for sure, but Iowa has thrived on a next-man-in philosophy under Ferentz.
The most important thing is for Wirfs to take the proper steps away from the field to prove that his arrest was an isolated incident.
He will be subjected to some tough love, as he should be, but he also will have the support of his teammates, coaches and family.
Second chances are part of life, and Wirfs certainly deserves a second chance to redeem himself and to pursue his dreams.
Good kids sometimes make bad decisions.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley raised a few eyebrows at Big Ten media day when he told reporters that he hadn't been in downtown Iowa City for social reasons since his official visit in high school.
But Stanley seems almost too good to be true.
And there is nothing wrong with Iowa football players enjoying downtown Iowa City from a social standpoint. It just comes down to how you handle the experience.
This is a low point for Wirfs right now. But if it means he never drives under the influence again, it also could be a turning point like it was for me 31 years ago.