Life in the NFL can take some surprising turns

  • Scott Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, November 13, 2003 9:00pm
  • Sports

Doug Evans knows how it feels to be an NFL vagabond. When you’re 33 years old, and nearly two years away from your last start, you’ve got to be ready for anything.

Evans thought he was, at least until Oct. 30. That’s when a routine trip to the auto shop quickly turned into a road trip from hell.

Evans, who had been released by the Seahawks on Oct. 11, was taking his car in for a tune-up in preparation for leaving the Seattle area for good. He planned on heading to Louisiana to see family, then home in Florida.

But the vagabond’s telephone rang that Thursday afternoon, and suddenly all those plans changed. The Detroit Lions wanted – no, needed – Evans to help solve their cornerback problems. A slew of Lions had been injured, including starters Dre’ Bly and Jimmy Wyrick.

Evans asked what day next week they needed him in town. Friday, he was told. And not next Friday.

“I told him, ‘Doug, I hope your toothbrush is close because we need you to get on a flight,’” coach Steve Mariucci said this week.

The next thing he knew, Evans was on a red-eye flight from Seattle to Detroit, arriving at 6:30 Friday morning. He was taken to a hotel near the Lions’ practice complex and fell asleep for less than an hour when the phone rang. He needed to get to the complex for a workout, ASAP.

Still groggy from the trip, Evans dragged himself out of bed and was soon running around at an informal tryout while coaches looked on.

“We were watching him work out, and we had a pen (and contract) on the side ready to go,” Mariucci said. “When he was done, we said: ‘Sign it, and let’s go to practice.’”

After a team meeting, Evans found himself on the practice field with teammates he had never met. At the conclusion of practice, an assistant coach pulled him aside to officially welcome him to town.

Oh, and one more thing, Evans was told. You’re starting on Sunday.

Two days later, with only one practice under his belt and nearly a month removed from his last game, Doug Evans took the field. In the starting lineup. Standing across from Jerry Rice.

Perhaps the most amazing part is how Evans played. He set up a touchdown by causing Rice to fumble while helping limit the future Hall of Famer to a relatively modest 71 yards off eight catches in a 23-13 win over the Oakland Raiders.

Looking back, Evans realizes just how strange the experience was. But at the time, he was just doing his job – like any NFL vagabond would.

“I really didn’t have a chance to think about anything. It was all happening too fast,” said Evans, who has now started the past two games for Detroit. “I just knew I wanted to play, and they were going to give me an opportunity. It turned out to be not just an opportunity to play, but to start. And you don’t want to turn that down.”

After enjoying the kind of job security that goes with being an NFL starter for the good part of eight seasons, Evans has had to get used to the other side of football recently. The Seahawks cut him at the conclusion of training camp, then asked him to stick around in case they needed a defensive back. They re-signed him Sept. 9, although they needed him to provide depth at safety – a position he hadn’t played on a regular basis since college.

Evans lasted another month in Seattle before the Seahawks released him again to make room for offensive lineman Chris Terry. Not seeing another opportunity to play for the Seahawks, Evans planned to head back to the South when the Lions called.

“This is my 11th year, and now I know that anything can happen in the National Football League – at any time,” Evans said Thursday during a phone call from the Lions’ locker room. “You just have to be ready.”

He was ready, and eventually his car was too. Fortunately, he had it shipped to Detroit, so the Lions won’t have to worry about their starting cornerback driving 2,300 miles after Sunday’s game.

And he won’t have to worry about jumping on a red-eye, either.

Kickoff: 1:15 p.m. Sunday

TV: Channel 13

Radio: KIRO (710 AM)

Stars to watch: Seahawks – QB Matt Hasselbeck has a 7-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past six games. RB Shaun Alexander needs three touchdowns to tie Chris Warren for third in franchise history. LB Anthony Simmons has a team-high 64 tackles as well as three interceptions and two sacks. SS Reggie Tongue is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, but hasn’t had one since Week 3.

Lions – QB Joey Harrington threw six touchdown passes in the first four weeks, but has only three in the five weeks since. RB Shawn Bryson leads the Lions with 341 rushing yards and 31 receptions. MLB Earl Holmes, who visited the Seahawks during free agency, has a team-high 74 tackles. K Jason Hanson is 13-of -13 on field goals this year.

Breaking down the game: The case could be made that the Lions are “hot,” seeing as though they are the first Seahawks opponent this month that doesn’t enter the game with a losing streak.

But Detroit, which is coming off back-to-back wins over Oakland and Chicago, is on quite a skid. The Lions have lost 20 consecutive road games, with their last win away from home coming at the end of the 2000 season.

Chances are that streak will continue this week, although the Seahawks’ performances against struggling teams would indicate that the Lions should keep things close.

On paper, however, the game should be one-sided. The Seahawks’ offense has too many weapons, while the defense should have enough firepower to tame the Lions.

Pick: Seahawks, 34-13.

Injury report: Seahawks – DT Norman Hand (bicep) is out. FS Damien Robinson (shoulder) is doubtful. DE Chike Okeafor (knee) is questionable. RB Shaun Alexander (ankle) and FS Ken Hamlin (foot/knee) are probable.

Lions – LB James Davis (shoulder) and WR Charles Rogers (clavicle) are out. WR Ed Drummond (ankle/knee) is doubtful. CB Dre Bly (leg) and CB Jimmy Wyrick (chest) are questionable. LB Barrett Green (groin) and S Bracy Walker (finger) are probable.

Little-known fact: Mike Holmgren’s debut as Seahawks coach came in a 28-20 loss to the Detroit Lions in 1999.

Baltimore (5-4) at Miami (5-4), Sunday, 10 a.m.: The Anthony Wright-Brian Griese matchup won’t bring back any memories of Unitas or Marino. Injuries at the QB position have left both these teams struggling, and a loss this week could be devastating. Pick: Ravens, 9-6.

Green Bay (4-5) at Tampa Bay (4-5), Sunday, 1:15 p.m.: Speaking of dwindling playoff chances. By now everyone knows about Favre’s record in Tampa, while Ahman Green’s 190-yard days won’t matter if he keeps fumbling. Pick: Buccaneers, 34-24.

Dallas (7-2) at New England (7-2), Sunday, 5:30 p.m.: The Tuna Bowl wasn’t supposed to have this much intrigue. It’s probably a stretch to predict a January rematch in Houston, but the winner of this game could become a Super Bowl dark horse. Pick: Cowboys, 16-10.

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