IOWA CITY, Ia. -- Tyler Sash always reminded me of a kid with the biggest toy, and the football field was his sandbox.
“He was tenacious,” said former Iowa and Kansas City Chiefs star Ed Podolak, now the Hawkeyes’ radio analyst. “He had no fear.”
Memories. That’s all we have now of the former Oskaloosa prep star and all-Big Ten safety at Iowa. It’s always sad to say that when someone leaves us too young. In this case, 27 years young.
As reporters gathered in the All-American Room of the Hawkeyes’ football facility in Iowa City on Tuesday to hear Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz talk about Saturday’s game at Iowa State, the mood turned somber when word of Sash’s death went from rumor to reality.
And when Steve Roe, Iowa’s Director of Athletic Communications, announced that the press conference had been postponed to Wednesday for a private issue “unrelated to game preparations,” everyone knew what that issue was.
It’s the first time a Ferentz presser had been called off since Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists changed America forever. That also the week of the Iowa-Iowa State game. This time, it was because of personal tragedy.
Steve Roe explains the delay.
But writing about football, and the buzz surrounding the annual in-state game, just didn’t feel right Tuesday. So instead of looking ahead, we look back on a small-town Iowa kid who played for the Hawkeyes and won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants.
Sash left Iowa after the 2010 season, with a year of eligibility remaining, and was selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the NFL draft. He played for the Super Bowl champs as a rookie.
Months later, Podolak and Gary Dolphin, Iowa’s play-by-play voice, went to Oskaloosa at Sash’s invitation to play in a golf outing.
“He was on Cloud Nine that day,” Podolak said.
But Sash was cut after a 2012 season that started with a four-game suspension for using Adderall. He said he took it, under doctor’s care, to help him deal with anxiety over with public speaking. His football career was over. He was also charged with public intoxication and interference with official acts in Oskaloosa in May of 2014.
On Tuesday, one of Sash’s former Iowa teammates, Julian Vandervelde, tweeted, “You never know the demons someone else is facing. It's a sad day when you lose a brother. R.I.P. Tyler Sash.”
Twitter was awash with heartfelt goodbyes on Tuesday. That happens when the memory bank is all we have left.
Podolak, from Atlantic, could relate to Sash’s small-town to big-time journey. And in Sash, Podolak saw a player who made plays because of his feel for the game.
“What he lacked for in blazing speed, he made up for with reaction time that put him in position to make a lot of plays,” Podolak said.
When I think of Sash, three moments stand out.
Iowa was 8-0 in 2009, and on the cover of Sports Illustrated, when Indiana came to town. The Hoosiers led, 21-7, and were poised to score again with 8 minutes left in the second quarter when Sash caught a ball that ricocheted off several players and went 86 yards for a touchdown. Iowa won, 42-24.
“Until my dying day, I’ll remember that among the top three or four plays I’ve ever witnessed,” Dolphin said. “It was something else.”
There was also Sash’s interception of a Kirk Cousins' pass, then his lateral to Micah Hyde for a touchdown in Iowa’s 37-6 victory over No. 5 Michigan State in 2010. And in 2009 Sash had three interceptions in the Hawkeyes’ 35-3 victory at Iowa State.
Those are the memories fans remember and cherish. Not Tuesday’s news, when game and a rivalry took a back seat.
“A tragedy,” Dolphin said. “It really is.”
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.