No second chance for Evans, Cundiff
Elizabeth Merrill [ARCHIVE]
January 16, 2013
t Facebook t Twitter

The city of Baltimore seemed like the last logical place for Lee Evans to hide. Maybe that's the greatest takeaway from the past year, that Evans never felt the need to go anywhere. He still lives in his home in Baltimore, and he keeps a photo of the dreaded play on a wall. His son, Lee Evans IV, is the one who put it there. The kid has no idea what the photo means. He's 4, and he saw it on a desk one day, saw the photo of Daddy playing football, so he pinned it to his wall. Someday, Evans will tell his son the story of how he got there, to the worst moment of his football career, to the best team he's ever played on.

"It's weird that I'm still living here in Baltimore," Evans says. "It's not like I'm from here or anything like that. It's just kind of how this all worked out."

Here's the thing you need to know about Lee Evans: He's fine. One year after a potential winning touchdown catch was slapped out of his hands in the waning seconds of the AFC Championship Game, Evans sat in front of a television in his house last weekend, hoping for the second chance he never got. A few minutes earlier, Baltimore's Jacoby Jones had dropped a third-and-5 pass in a playoff game at Denver. The Ravens trailed by seven and were running out of time in the frigid mountain air. Joe Flacco heaved up a 70-yard prayer, and Jones wrapped his arms around it and found the end zone.

And Evans nearly jumped out of his seat.

Sometimes, in the postseason, you get only one shot. Evans didn't know then, after the ball fell to the ground in New England, that it could be the last pass ever thrown to him. He hustled back to the huddle after that play, with 22 seconds to go, waiting to redeem himself. Move on to the next play, he thought. That's what you're taught in football. Eleven seconds later, Billy Cundiff's potential tying 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide, the Ravens were sent home and Evans could barely move. He couldn't believe it was over.

He was cut in March and sat out the 2012 season; Cundiff was released at the end of training camp, bounced around to Washington, then to San Francisco, and is battling to make the 49ers' active roster. He desperately wants to kick in the postseason again.

Sunday night, the Ravens will get a second chance. They'll go back to New England in an AFC Championship Game rematch for a trip to the Super Bowl.

Evans, for his part, is as over it as he can be. His former teammates made an impossible night somewhat easier when they refused to point fingers. They won as a team and they lost as a team, they told him. Some people say those things to the cameras but don't really mean them, Evans says. He knows every man in that locker room believed that.

Today, he can walk by that photo without feeling sad or embarrassed. He doesn't know how he'll feel Sunday, when his old team stands on the FieldTurf where Cundiff's kick flailed wide left and Evans' dreams were swatted away.

"I do think about it," Evans says. "I don't think about it in a negative way, though. Right after the play, I went to the [PR] guy and basically asked him to get me a picture of it. Give me a picture of that moment, so I have it. I wanted it as a constant reminder to keep pushing, to keep going.

"I look at that picture, and basically I ask myself, 'Do I want another opportunity to do that again?'"

The Baltimore Ravens' locker room is sort of an anomaly in a league full of constantly changing faces. Boys don't just grow into men here; they become graying fixtures who spend their entire careers wearing the black and purple.

When Evans arrived in the spring of 2012, the low-key receiver felt out of place, as if he had just stepped in on a conversation that had started five years ago. But it didn't last for long. Coach John Harbaugh, who is called "Harbs" by his players, fosters a culture of brotherhood and accountability. His teams are tight, his leaders are strong, and everyone quickly took Evans in as family.

Evans, 31, a 2004 first-round draft pick from the University of Wisconsin, was expected to do big things in Baltimore. In seven years as a Buffalo Bill, he had amassed nearly 6,000 receiving yards. Evans had adulation, money and gaudy stats in Buffalo, but never had a chance to play in the postseason, and it nagged at him. He would watch the playoffs on TV and wonder what it was like to be called upon in the final seconds of a game that meant everything. In Baltimore, he would get that chance -- the Ravens have been in the playoffs nine times since 2000 -- but Evans was never the same receiver he was in Buffalo.

An ankle injury limited his playing time and production. Evans sat out seven games in 2011, and every week he was out, a small army of reporters gathered around his locker, quizzing him about when he would be back. It was frustrating for Evans, who wanted to help his new team. Eventually, he stopped answering the questions. He caught just four passes for 74 yards in the regular season. But when the playoffs rolled around, Evans felt ready and healed. He was not intimidated by the atmosphere in Foxborough on the night of Jan. 22; he had played there many times back in his days in Buffalo.

For more than three quarters, Evans showed the promise that brought him to Baltimore. He caught a 20-yard pass from Flacco and made two other catches.

The Ravens trailed 23-20 with 22 seconds to go when Flacco found Evans in the corner of the end zone. Evans had it for a second or so, for what seemed both an eternity and a flash, before Sterling Moore stripped the ball out of Evans' hands.

After the game, Evans stood in front of the cameras and took full responsibility.

"It was an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl," he said, "and I let it go."

As the team was boarding the bus, he tried to find Ray Lewis, the linebacker who has been in Baltimore his entire 17-year career. Evans knew that Lewis might never get this chance again, and he felt terrible about it. He tried to apologize, only Lewis wouldn't let him. He told Evans about his journey through the NFL, the Super Bowl he won many years ago, the struggles he has faced since. He told Evans that sometimes, things aren't meant to be.

"It's all about the journey," Evans said. "It's all about the path to get there. Obviously, it takes you to places sometimes you don't expect to be.

"Ray felt like what we had there was something real, and if it's supposed to be, it's going to happen. He felt that this team is built to be a champion. He had a real sense and a real tangible attitude that they were going to be right back where we were next year with the same opportunity."

Billy Cundiff is 32 now, but the stress of the NFL has caused nary a crease on his baby face. Cundiff grew up in Harlan, a friendly southwestern Iowa town of 5,000 that churns out state...
Next >

t Facebook t Twitter
Back to Top
ESPN Mobile Web Home
En Español
ABC News Headlines
Help and Feedback
Terms of Use
Interest-Based Ads
Privacy Policy/Your California Privacy Rights