Heath Evans is one of those throwback professional athletes who did not say, "Show Me The Money."
In fact, he said re-upping for two more years with the Patriots wasn't about the money at all. When was the last time you heard that from an NFL player?
No, number 44 is old school, just like his fullback position. He still remembers the Dolphins cut him on October 25, 2005. He also remembers the Patriots signed him that week and gave him a dream opportunity: This Sunday against Miami, show us - and them - what kind of football player you are.
He did, and wasted no time doing so when he ran over his former teammates for 21 yards on the game's second play. He proceeded to run roughshod over the Fish in having his career day. His 84 yards on 17 carries easily topped his previous career high of 53 yards rushing -- in a SEASON.
For good measure, he chipped in that day with three receptions for 18 yards, more than his receiving yards in each of the previous two SEASONS.
Take that Nick Saban! Looking back, the Evans release may have been the early warning signal that the South Beach persona-non-grata was not quite the personnel genius everyone believed.
No, the real personnel geniuses are right here in Foxboro in the persons of Coach Bill Belichick and General Manager Scott Pioli. In addition to all the football factors, Belichick recognized something in Evans that his protégé Saban did not: character.
|Joey Ingoldsby holding NFL glove given to him moments earlier by Heath Evans. (Photo: John Ingoldsby)|
This scribe also had the chance to see what a quality human being Evans is at the end of the Patriots game against the Houston Texans last December 17.
As my 10-year-old son Joey and I watched the Patriots leave the field - standing in the first row directly behind the goal posts and yards away from the crowd near the locker room entrance - I noticed out of the corner of my eye that someone on the field was coming towards us.
It was Heath Evans, who had taken a detour outside the ropes leading the team into the tunnel, and he was making a beeline right at us. I looked around, and saw we were the only two people in the area.
Next thing we know, Evans is taking off his official NFL game glove, handing it to my son, and thanking us for coming to the game. And just like that, he was gone.
But the memory will live forever, since it was my son's first-ever Patriots/NFL game. Christmas had come a week early, and Heath Evans played the role of Santa Claus. As my son put it in his backpack to take to school the next day, I reminded him to take good care of it since you can't buy that glove in any store. This was exactly what my father said to me at age 12 when I brought home a chinstrap given to me by a Notre Dame player as the Irish left Pitt Stadium after beating the Panthers.
A few weeks later before the Chargers playoff game, I saw Evans alone in the locker room and told him the glove story. He was genuinely gracious, attentive, curious, and interested in everything I had to say. Exactly what I would have expected!
Ironically, I was there to do an interview with Artrell Hawkins, another character guy who was cut by the Redskins (sensing a trend here that bad teams don't value character) and picked up by the Patriots. He, like Evans, signed a two-year contract with New England that he earned after proving himself on the field and in the locker room.
Like Hawkins being asked to step up after Rodney Harrison's injuries, more may be asked of Evans this year now that Corey Dillon has moved on. The six-foot, 250-pound Evans will now be needed in short-yardage situations, especially near the goal line.
He has covered this ground before, when he was the leading scorer in the entire state of Florida as a high school senior with 32 touchdowns, 27 on the ground and five as a receiver. That got Auburn's attention, and in three years as a War Eagle scored seven touchdowns while compiling about 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.
Given this familiarity with the end zone, it oddly took him six years, the first four of which he spent with the Seattle Seahawks, to score his first NFL touchdown. That was only last October 8 when he caught a one-yard pass from Tom Brady. The team he scored it against? The Dolphins, of course.
Too bad for Evans that Saban bolted for the Crimson Tide, although it might be worth the tradeoff just to watch this year's annual Auburn-Alabama war with Evans.
Then again, maybe not. Even after embarrassing the Dolphins in his first game as a Patriot, he took the high road in his post-game comments. His newfound loyalty to the Patriots superseded whatever his private thoughts were that day toward Miami. He did his talking on the field. He was saying then - and still saying now - show me respect. He was not saying, show me the money.
John Ingoldsby is a free-lance sports writer based in Medfield, Massachusetts, who has written articles about the Patriots for various publications during the past five years. You can find John on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle Rudiee.