116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sarah Wirfs has never flown so much in her life.
But that changed this NFL season. She followed her son, Tristan Wirfs, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie, across the country.
She'd flown exactly three times before this season. Once for the Outback Bowl in Tampa Bay when Tristan played at the University of Iowa. Once for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Once when she was 17 years old, traveling to Cancun for a school trip.
She said her favorite trip so far this season was Denver, because walking out of Empower Field at Mile High, she could explore the city on foot against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, she gets the star treatment at the Hyundai Club, which is nice, too. The iconic Lambeau Field last week, while cold, was special in itself, watching her son play in the NFC Championship Game and advance to NFL's most coveted stage with Tampa Bay's win over the Green Bay Packers.
She'd sit in the nosebleed seats any day for that, where she can see the whole field. Like a true Midwesterner, she embraces the cold, but her throat got a little sore from screaming.
'Up until this year, I had never been to an NFL game,” Sarah said. 'It's usually beforehand and especially after his game that I'm kind of shook with awe a little bit. The fact that - that's my son out there and he's blocking for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. It's really hard to wrap your head around.”
The surreal feeling of watching Tristan compete at the highest level reverberates throughout the town of Mount Vernon, where the Buccaneers have an unsuspecting following in the heart of Eastern Iowa - just because of Tristan.
'I love Mount Vernon, I'm super proud to be from that town,” Tristan said over the phone from Tampa on Thursday. 'I love the entire state of Iowa, hopefully I have the whole state behind me.”
He probably does.
This year, people sent pictures to Sarah at the AAU state wrestling meet of kids wearing his jersey. Less than a year ago, a parade of cars drove by the Wirfs' home during the NFL Draft, honking in celebration of the town's first-round pick.
Now, he's going to the Super Bowl against the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday in Tampa.
'That's one of those things you have in the back of your mind,” Mount Vernon High School football coach Lance Pedersen said. 'I was talking to my wife: Tristan was originally slated to be the No. 4 pick in the draft. As we were watching, I was upset and sad he wasn't picked at the No. 4 spot and the next tackle went by. I said that if he got picked by the Bucs, he could be going to the Super Bowl.”
Aaron Truitt, assistant wrestling coach at Mount Vernon, had to buy more Bucs gear for his family last week following the Bucs' victory over the Packers.
'Two weeks ago, I was wearing a Tampa Bay shirt and a little kindergarten boy walked by and said, ‘Hey, I like the Bucs too,'” Truitt said. 'If it was easier to find Tampa Bay gear, I bet we'd see a lot more of it.”
It's Tristan's humbleness that's infectious and true to his small-town identity, and he's collected fans along the way as a result. Truitt said when Tristan calls, he'll always say hello to his two daughters, Alivia and Alaina. As an elementary aid in high school, Tristan would take a third-grade girl with special needs out of her wheelchair, set her on a mat and roll the ball back and forth with her.
He thinks it's important for young kids to have sports figures to look up to. And while Tristan always has been known for his victories, it was the losses when Truitt saw his greatest moments.
'We knew he was going to be special his freshman year,” Truitt said. 'We talked to him and said we'll have you wrestle in dual meets and on the weekend, you can wrestle JV, if you want. The first weekend we gave him the option, but even though he wasn't successful, he wanted to be around a varsity team, so he was varsity the whole year. He was like 10-27.
'Here's a kid that wasn't used to losing and had been successful his whole life up to that point.”
Truitt said he and Tristan talked a few times over the phone this season, but Truitt sent him a text every week reminding him all he has control over was his attitude and effort, a motto he shares with all of his wrestlers.
What's special about the Super Bowl, though, is Kaylia, Tristan's sister, also will be there.
As a student at Wartburg College in Waverly, she's only been able to fit one other game into her schedule. Ironically, it was the one the Buccaneers lost to the Chiefs on Nov. 29.
She's liked the NFL game experience more than when Tristan played at Iowa, but for a reason a lot of people wouldn't.
'I am not a crowd person, when there are crowds, it's just so stressful,” Kaylia said. 'It was a lot more relaxed, a welcomed change. The lines aren't long, it's nice and spread out from everyone, you can see the game all the time.”
The Outback Bowl was at Raymond James Stadium, so Kaylia said seeing her brother play as the home team instead of being 'that kid from Iowa” was 'crazy.”
But that kid from Iowa recognizes where he came from.
'I think I just want to tell them all I love them and a huge thank you for all the support they've given me,” Tristan said. 'It doesn't go unnoticed. I'll be back soon, hopefully, with a big fat ring on my finger.”