Iowa Football

At No. 13, Tristan Wirfs is earliest NFL draft pick ever from Linn County

In 1943, Cedar Rapids' Tom Farmer went 15th

Nile Kinnick (left) at the opening day of the Iowa football team's 1940 spring practice, giving pointers to Bob Bender,
Nile Kinnick (left) at the opening day of the Iowa football team's 1940 spring practice, giving pointers to Bob Bender, Tom Farmer of Cedar Rapids, Bill Stauss and Jim Youel. (The Gazette)

Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs holds a lot of distinctions, the latest when he was the first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night.

Here’s one that’s more obscure: When he was chosen by the Bucs with the 13th pick in the draft, Mount Vernon’s Wirfs became the highest NFL draftee from Linn County in 77 years.

In 1943, Tom Farmer of Cedar Rapids was the 15th pick in the draft. He was a quarterback/halfback at Iowa, having moved into the Hawkeyes’ backfield after Nile Kinnick’s Heisman Trophy-winning season of 1939.

Kinnick never played pro football, but was the 14th pick in the 1940 draft. He passed on playing for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers and instead entered Iowa’s School of Law. He left law school to join the U.S. Naval Air Reserve and trained to be a fighter pilot. He died in a 1943 crash off the coast of Venezuela during a training flight when his plane developed an oil leak and he was forced to execute an emergency landing in the Gulf of Paria.

Farmer, a multisport athlete at Wilson High School in Cedar Rapids, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years during World War II and saw duty in the Pacific theater. He then went to the NFL, where he played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 and the Washington Redskins in 1947 and 1948.

Farmer, known as “Tommy” during his Hawkeye days, moved back to Cedar Rapids from San Bruno, Calif., in 1961.

Farmer helped greatly with the raising of $40,000 to send 117 members of Capuchino High School in San Bruno/Millbrae to Washington, D.C., to march in President John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade.

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He wrote a bowling column for the San Bruno Herald and was a contributor to bowling-related radio and TV shows in the area.

Farmer moved back to Cedar Rapids in the 1960s and was the proprietor of the Tropic Lanes bowling alley in Cedar Rapids in the 1960s. He was one of the best bowlers in town. In the early 1970s he and his wife, June, opened a Dairy Queen near Jones Park.

It was years after I had bought many a Mr. Misty there when I heard Farmer had been a standout football player. Maybe it was because sports weren’t as big a thing then, or maybe it was because athletes of Farmer’s era weren’t given to self-promotion.

“He seldom spoke of his athletic deeds,” San Bruno Herald sports editor Warren Wynkoop said in a 1961 letter to Gazette sports editor Gus Schrader,

Farmer and his wife worked hard to run businesses people enjoyed, and they were nice to kids. That, much more than being the highest-drafted football player from his county for 77 years, is a legacy.

Wirfs isn’t a self-promoter and seems to treat people very well. He should be a fine representative of Mount Vernon, Linn County, the Hawkeyes, and this state as he moves forward.

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