Four former Hawkeyes to compete for Lombardi Trophy

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs will compete in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7. Both teams have two former Hawkeyes on their rosters.


Katina Zentz

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs cheers during the Iowa vs. Northwestern football game at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

For the 16th time in 17 seasons, the Iowa football program will be represented in the Super Bowl. And this time, there are four former Hawkeyes set to play in the biggest game of the year.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Green Bay Packers, 31-26, on Sunday afternoon in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LV. Later that night, the Kansas City Chiefs overpowered the Buffalo Bills, 38-24, to win the AFC crown.

As a result, former Hawkeyes will clash in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7 with Super Bowl rings on the line. Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and defensive lineman/outside linebacker Anthony Nelson (Buccaneers) will stand on the opposite sideline from linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann (Chiefs).

All four players played a role in their respective team’s run to the Super Bowl, and will contribute once again to a battle for the Lombardi Trophy.

Tristan Wirfs

A year ago, Wirfs was preparing to go through the NFL draft process after a standout three-year career at Iowa. Now, he’s the starting right tackle for the Buccaneers and is preparing to protect Tom Brady in the quarterback’s 10th Super Bowl.

Wirfs has started every game at right tackle for the Buccaneers this season after being selected by Tampa Bay with the 13th overall pick of the 2020 draft. The Mount Vernon native received the most All-Pro votes (10) of any rookie this season, constantly held his own, and — in some cases — dominated the best edge defenders in the league.

Wirfs was named to the All-Rookie Team by Pro Football Focus.

“Rookie offensive linemen aren’t supposed to come into the league and be as good as Wirfs has been in his first season,” Pro Football Focus wrote.

Wirfs will likely compete against Chiefs defensive ends Frank Clark and Tanoh Kpassagnon in the Super Bowl. The pair combined for three sacks in the AFC Championship game.

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Anthony Nelson

Nelson is a rotational player for the Buccaneers in the front seven. He played 18 snaps on defense and 21 on special teams against the Packers on Sunday. The former Hawkeye tallied 18 tackles and a sack in 16 regular season games this season.

In three years on the field at Iowa, Nelson totaled 23 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. The Waukee native declared for the NFL draft following his junior season as a Hawkeye and was selected by the Buccaneers in the fourth round in 2019.

Anthony Hitchens

Hitchens is in his seventh season in the NFL and third year in Kansas City. A team captain and signal caller on defense, Hitchens is a leader for the Chiefs.

In the regular season, Hitchens played 14 games and tallied 78 tackles, finishing second on the team. The Lorain, Ohio, native played at Iowa from 2010-13. As a senior, he was a second-team All-Big Ten selection after compiling 112 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and an interception. Hitchens was a fourth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.

Ben Niemann

Niemann has spent his entire three-year NFL career in Kansas City, and he’s off to a successful start. As a rookie in 2018, the Chiefs went to the AFC Championship Game. Last season, they won the Super Bowl, so Niemann and Hitchens are going for their second championship in a row.

Niemann appeared in 15 games in the regular season and started five of them at linebacker. His 44 tackles ranked seventh on the team. The Des Moines native has played 58 snaps on defense in two games this postseason, and an additional 15 on special teams.

From 2014-17, Niemann was a Hawkeye. His best season came as a senior when he finished the year with 77 tackles and five tackles for loss. Niemann joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent and, with his play, forced his way onto the roster and onto the field.