By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Don Patterson was getting ready for bed on Wednesday night when his phone started ringing.
The news on the other line was horrible.
Former Iowa quarterback Ryan Driscoll was dead at the age of just 44.
Patterson was told that Driscoll had collapsed on Wednesday while riding a treadmill, and that his wife found him unconscious.
“It’s just tragic,” said Patterson, who was Iowa’s offensive coordinator under Hayden Fry during Driscoll’s time as a Hawkeye from 1992-96. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Driscoll grew up in Cedar Rapids and was a multi-sport star at Linn-Mar High School. He chose to play football for Iowa and was ranked among the top high school quarterbacks in the country as a senior.
Driscoll picked Iowa over scholarship offers from Florida State and Notre Dame among others.
He never achieved stardom as a Hawkeye, eventually losing the starting job to Matt Sherman, but Driscoll stayed loyal to the Hawkeyes and made friends for life in college.
Those same friends and former teammates are now devastated and trying to make sense out of his sudden passing.
It serves as a cruel reminder that life is precious, and sometimes, unfair and much too short.
Patterson’s phone lit up with calls and text messages late Wednesday night as former Iowa players, including Tim Dwight and Bill Inge, wanted to let him know about the terrible news.
Patterson also called former Iowa trainer Ed Crowley Thursday morning to tell him about Driscoll’s death. Crowley was Iowa’s trainer during Driscoll’s time in the football program.
“I wanted to be sure Ed knew about Ryan because Ryan had some injuries, every football player has injuries, and the trainer gets to know them well,” Patterson said. “And I called up Ed and I could hear some noise in the background. And Ed said, ‘I hope you can hear me okay coach I’m on the treadmill.’ And I said, ‘well, you might want to do me a favor and stop for a second.’
“And he did and I said Ryan’s wife found him collapsed on the treadmill, or on the side of the treadmill. So here’s Ed Crowley, who is 75-years old or whatever, trying to take care of himself and lead a long life, and yet any time you increase your hear rate, you risk something bad happening.”
Driscoll was living near Rockford, Ill., and he leaves behind a wife and two daughters, and a Hawkeye community in mourning.
Former Iowa defensive lineman Eppy Epenesa posted a picture of himself and Driscoll on Twitter from their playing days at Iowa. Driscoll has a huge smile on his face and his left arm is draped around Epenesa’s shoulders in the photo.
Epenesa grew up in America Samoa and came to the United States to play football for Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant.
But he wanted to play at a higher level, so he transferred to Iowa and joined the football team as a walk-on in 1996. He and Driscoll immediately became friends.
“Ryan was the first person who reached out to help me when I was brand new in Iowa City,” Epenesa said Thursday in a private message on Twitter.
Patterson spent a lot of time around Driscoll as Iowa’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Their paths also have crossed several times since Patterson retired from coaching in 2015 and moved back to Iowa City.
“I remember him as being the same jovial person that he always was, just a fun loving guy that was very considerate of others, and those kinds of things,” Patterson said.
Even though he lost his starting position at Iowa, Patterson said he doesn’t remember Driscoll ever letting that effect their relationship.
“It never crossed my mind for a second that he might be angry at all towards me, and he wasn’t at all,’ Patterson said. “And if he was, he did a great job of hiding it. He seemed to be thrilled to see me again, and I was thrilled to see him and we reminisced about things.”
A call to Bill Inge late Wednesday night reminded Patterson about the power of the Hawkeye spirit.
Inge played defensive end for Iowa from 1993 to 1996 and is now an assistant coach at Indiana.
“When I called Billy, I said Billy I apologize for calling so late, but I know that you were trying to call me and I’m just returning your call,” Patterson said. “And he’s like, ‘no coach, I’m good. He said I’m on the road recruiting so it’s fine I just got to my room a while ago.
“It’s all part of the Hawkeye family. Billy is getting paid by Indiana, but he’s still part of that Hawkeye family and always will be. It doesn’t matter who he’s working for.”
Ryan Driscoll will always be a part of the Hawkeye family, too. His memory will live on forever through his family, friends and his former Iowa teammates.
But it'll take some time to get over the shock and devastation of losing somebody so young and without warning.
"It shouldn't happen to a guy that's (44)," Patterson said.