Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
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I’ll admit, when the Buccaneers were on the clock and Scott Reynolds and I were sitting inside the media room at the Advent Health Training Center that April night in 2014, I was hoping for a certain quarterback named Johnny Manziel.
Sure, the Bucs had signed Josh McCown in free agency and also still had Mike Glennon, but finding a dynamic playmaker under center would be exciting and Manziel would be an upgrade over McCown or Glennon – at least that is what I thought that night.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
Reason No. 391 why I am not an NFL general manager or scout.
And if the Buccaneers passed on “Johnny Football” LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr., FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks were on the board still.
Reasons No. 392, 393 and 394 why I am not an NFL general manager or scout.
Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith called in the pick to the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium.
“With the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select, Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M.”
Ehhh, okay. I guess.
Reason 395 why I am not an NFL general manager or scout.
To say Licht and crew got their very first draft pick correct for Tampa Bay would be a gross understatement.
They crushed it.
Licht and his front office scouts knew Evans would be special. Maybe not this special, but they knew he would be a great NFL receiver.
“We marveled at the dominance had on the field in his two years at Texas A&M,” Licht told me on Wednesday. “[Johnny] Manziel was a phenomenal college quarterback who obviously won the Heisman as a freshman, but Mike was on the receiving end of nearly one-third of his passing yards in their two years together.
“For every “ooh” there was for one of Manziel’s great passes, there was a collective “ahh” on the receiving end when Mike came down with the extraordinary catch. Once we did our homework on the character of Mike, it became apparent that he had a chance to be special. His combination of size, play strength, athleticism, speed, hands and competitiveness were rare.”
How rare was his skill set?
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, WR Mike Evans, TE Cam Brate and GM Jason Licht – Photo by Mary Holt/PR
Evans, now in his seventh season with the Buccaneers, has re-written the team’s record book for receivers. And earlier this month in the regular season finale, Evans re-wrote an NFL record becoming the first player in NFL history to begin his career with seven straight 1,000 yards receiving.
The NFL has been playing football for over 100 years. And no player in the time accomplished what Evans has.
That’s pretty rare I would say.
And in the process he has now dethroned Bucs legends like James Wilder, Mike Alstott and Jimmie Giles as the best offensive player in Bucs history. His 61 career receiving touchdowns are now 27 more than Giles and his 62 total touchdowns puts him ahead of Wilder who scored 46 times in his career. And don’t look now, but Alstott’s team record for most total touchdowns in Bucs history is in deep trouble as Evans likely surpasses that number (71) in 2021. And he will overtake Alstott in just his eighth season while Alstott played for 11 years. If Evans were to play 11 seasons for Tampa Bay, at his current pace he would finish with 95 scores. That would put him in 12th place all time in NFL history.
But it’s not just Evans on the field that is impressive. It is also Evans the husband, son, father and example in the community that makes him even more special. Evans started the Mike Evans Family Foundation in December of 2017. The Foundation provides financial assistance for graduating high school students from low-income families in need and supports women and families suffering from domestic violence, along other things.
Evans was no stranger to domestic violence growing up. He witnessed his father abusing his mother and then when Evans was nine, his father was killed in his home by his own brother. To understand Evans’ full story you have to know where his drive comes from. A lot of it came from the pain he saw growing up. In 2016 Evans was featured in an E:60 special (see below) that delved into his past and his ability to rise from a tough childhood to grow into the man he is today.
During his career in Tampa Bay, Evans has caught passes from Josh McCown, Mike Glennon, Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and now Tom Brady. In that time he has had three different head coach and four different offensive coordinators. He’s lined up on the field next to guys named Robert Herron, Taverres King, Donteea Dye, Josh Huff, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Bobo Wilson and Ishmael Hyman. Not exactly names that will be drawing a lot of coverage to their side of the field.
Former teammate Adam Humphries, now with the Tennessee Titans, fondly remembers his time playing with Evans in Tampa Bay and the impression he made.
Bucs WRs Mike Evans and Adam Humphries – Photo by: Mary Holt/P
“Mike is such a hard worker and obviously one of the most talented guys in the league, but what really stood out to me was the way he approached practice every day,” Humphries said. “A lot of No. 1 receivers or stars will take reps off, or even days of practice, but Mike never wanted to give up a rep in practice and was always first in all the drills. He just wanted to be great and that really stood out when I got there and during my time with the Buccaneers.”
As a reporter, I don’t get to play favorites. But if I could, Evans would be one of a handful for me. In that hypothetical world Warren Sapp remains my favorite Bucs player I have watched or covered. Lee Roy Selmon would likely be next. But after that I would have to say it is Evans.
From his rookie season with 1,051 yards and 12 scores, to his monster 2018 year that saw him nab 1,524 yards, to this season’s 1,006 yard NFL record-setting year, Evans has displayed consistency regardless of who has been under center throwing him the ball. But as mentioned, it isn’t just the Evans on the field I have enjoyed seeing, it is also how he conducts himself off of it.
In June of 2019 I attended his charity golf tournament that raised money for his foundation and, not wanting to embarrass myself by playing, I agreed to drive the event’s official photographer around with Evans’ group. Evans also didn’t play, but he and his wife went to every single foursome scattered across the course, met with them individually and talked, signed autographs and posed for pictures. I’ve seen players at some of these charity events, including some I helped arrange and promote. Sometimes the first question they ask is – how long do I have to be there and what do I have to do? I get it. Answering the same questions over and over, fake smiling and trying to make conversation can be tough at times.
But when I watched Evans that afternoon, he was different. Everything he did was casual and made the people who paid to play feel welcome and comfortable. Evans and his wife just had conversations with the fans, even to the point where he was getting rushed to hurry up by some of the event organizers. Evans just blended in with his fans – well, as much as a 6-5, 230 pound athlete can blend in – and was just one of the guys.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
It’s been the same thing at his bowling charity events as well. Evans just mingles, signs autographs and, if you didn’t know who he was, you might assume he is just a guy attending the event as a fan.
When the Buccaneers secured their first playoff berth in 12 years following a late December game against the Lions, the pats on the back went to Lavonte David and some of the older veterans on the team, the coaching staff and even newer players like Brady. But much of the congratulations, hugs and high fives should have been directed at Evans, who has been a warrior in his career for the Buccaneers.
Someone who has played through injury, lame duck seasons going nowhere with pending coaching changes and in half-empty stadiums often in his seven seasons. Yet, in those seven years Evans has been the same guy. We never heard him complain, throw a player or coach under the bus or scream to the media he needed the ball more. He just worked.
And in 2020 he saw his patience and work ethic pay off with a trip to the playoffs.
“It meant a lot. I haven’t been to the playoffs – it was my first time, first game in the playoffs,” Evans said. “I was excited to play, it was great weather [and] we had a great week of preparation. It just meant a lot to be out there and to try to make plays to help my team win. The goal is to do enough each week to play the next week, so that’s what we’re doing this week.”
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As mentioned above, Evans and his wife Ashli run the Mike Evans Family Foundation doing great work in the Tampa Bay and Galveston community. From scholarships to providing Christmas for needy children, the Tampa Bay community is fortunate to have Evans as a part of it.
• I never miss the opportunity for some shameless self-promotion. Here is one of my favorite episodes of What’s Cooking and Mike signed a hat that raised $120 for his charity in a Twitter auction we held. Check it out and maybe if this COVID era ever gets contained and life can get back to some sense of normalcy, we can get the camera out again and film some new episodes in the future. You can follow the Pewter Report Youtube channel here and see all of the past episodes along with keeping up with all of the podcasts throughout the week. Make sure you like and subscribe to the page.
As you know if you are a regular reader of The Hook, I am a huge The Office fan and love to post any NFL memes that tie the two together. This one stings for Steelers’ fans.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org