Harty: Hard to think about football on this sad and tragic day
IOWA CITY, Iowa – This is one of those incredibly sad days when you try to make sense of something that’s so cruel and stunning that it makes no sense.
Former Iowa all-Big Ten defensive back Tyler Sash is dead at the age of 27.
The news broke just minutes before Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was scheduled to have his weekly Tuesday press conference with the media.
Understandably, Ferentz’s press conference was postponed and rescheduled for Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.
Even the big game between Iowa and Iowa State, which will be played Saturday in Ames, doesn’t mean as much right now. It’s hard to think about football under such horrible circumstances. It’s hard to get excited about our state’s biggest rivalry when one side is hurting so much.
But if any fan base can relate to and sympathize with the devastation that Iowa fans are feeling right now, it is Iowa State fans, considering all the tragedies they’ve had to endure over the past decade in which former football players died far too young, names like Stevie Hicks, Ennis Haywood and Hiawatha Rutland.
Sash achieved a dream by not only being an Iowa football player, but also a star for the Hawkeyes, twice making first-team all-Big Ten. The Oskaloosa native also was a member of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants as a rookie in 2011.
As a Hawkeye, Sash had a knack for seizing the moment and making big plays, three of which standout, including his interception of a pass against Indiana in 2009 that bounced off several players before Sash caught the ball and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown.
Equally dramatic was Sash’s interception against Michigan State in 2010 in which he lateraled the ball to fellow defensive back Micah Hyde, who then returned it for a touchdown in Iowa’s 37-6 victory.
His third special moment was actually three plays against Iowa State in 2009 that resulted in three Sash interceptions during Iowa’s 35-3 victory. It was as if Sash knew exactly what the Cyclones wanted to do on offense that day, almost like he was in their offensive huddle.
Those kinds of skills can’t be taught. You either have them or you don’t, and Sash had them. He was maybe the best I’ve seen among all the Iowa defensive backs at anticipating where the ball was headed.
Sash appeared to be living a storybook life, going from small town Iowa kid to Super Bowl champion.
But in July 2012, Sash was suspended for four games by the NFL after testing positive for Adderall, which is on the league’s list of banned substances. Sash said in a statement that he took the drug legally and "under a doctor’s care for an anxiety condition" to help him with public speaking.
Sash was cut from the Giants on August 31, 2013.
Sash also was arrested in May 2014 in Oskaloosa after police said he led officers on a four-block chase with a motorized scooter before running into a wooded area. Officers say Sash was shocked with a stun gun after he refused to be handcuffed.
Sash later pleaded guilty to public intoxication and was fined $65.
His life wasn’t without adversity, but whose is?
Sash was a gifted athlete, who achieved the kind of success that most of us only dream about. He always was friendly to the media and treated me with kindness and respect while being interviewed. And he always was willing to speak with the media, win or lose.
That didn’t make him a better person, but it made an impression on me.
I can’t begin to imagine the pain and devastation that Sash’s family is feeling right now because I’m lucky in that I’ve never had to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude, where a young person dies in the prime of their life.
Shortly after learning about Sash’s death, I thought about Brett Greenwood, who started at free safety alongside Sash for three seasons at Iowa from 2008-10.
Greenwood is four years removed from an anoxic brain injury that was the result of a heart arrhythmia. He is making slow, but steady progress, including being able to walk again with the assistance of physical therapists.
It’s almost beyond belief what has happened to both of them. They both deserved better, but sometimes, life doesn’t give what you deserve.
Nobody should be dead at 27, though.
UI officials did the right thing by rescheduling Ferentz’s press conference for Wednesday. Everybody who knew Sash needs more time to come to terms with what has happened.
Saturday’s game will go on as schedule in Ames. But no matter who prevails, it just won’t feel as important after what happened today.
So rest in peace, Tyler Sash.