Interview: Jahri Evans on SHOF induction, overcoming odds, Super Bowl win and Drew Brees
For Jahri Evans, reaching the zenith of his profession was a long, arduous journey. It was never easy.
Evans was not the “can’t miss” prospect from youth to high school, from prep to college, from college to the pros.
In fact, the so-called experts were basically siding with the “miss” part in comparison to being a hit and a successful football player.
Evans had an uphill climb to the top, as he described on All Access on 106.1 FM Wednesday night.
“I didn’t play organized football until ninth grade,” Evans said. “I got hurt going before my senior year playing basketball. A lot of my Division I recruits backed off and wanted me to walk on and didn’t offer me any scholarship money. Bloomsburg was coming off a national championship. I went up to the campus, talked to the coaches and saw them and I was able to get a Board of Governors scholarship and matched that with a little bit of football money they gave me and I had my full funding to go to school.”
Evans actually played tackle in his redshirt freshman year at Bloomsburg (PA), played a little guard, but the last three years of college, he played tackle, certainly not a portend of things to come at the NFL level.
“It is not easy to go from tackle to guard but there are a lot of guys when they get to the pro level, they are able to go from tackle to guard and then the more athletic guys stay out there at tackle,” Evans said.
Evans did not get that memo. He was as athletic as anyone at the professional level.
Despite playing well at Bloomsburg, most had Evans projected as a seventh-round pick in the 2006 draft or to even go undrafted. The New Orleans Saints chose him in the fourth round.
“They (Saints) didn’t have a lot of film to go off of,” Evans said. “Luckily, New Orleans saw my value and they picked third out of their draft picks and picked Reggie and Roman before me and I made a career out of it.
In 2006, New Orleans was coming off of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The football team went through an awful season of 3-13, displaced to San Antonio and Baton Rouge, with homes and lives destroyed and overcoming the rumors of the team possibly relocating. Evans was keenly aware of where he was going.
“Most definitely,” Evans said. “Knowing what the area just went through and driving down there and seeing it first hand, then going to training camp. The thing that we as players always wanted to do was get back into the Superdome. We didn’t know when we would be able to go back. Once we got back there and Coach Payton has always been a good motivator and showed us some videos of what happened in the city and stuff, we knew we had an opportunity to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people. We did that our first year and four years later, we were able to win the big one.”
The Saints went to the NFC Championship game in 2006, a remarkable achievement considering where the city and franchise had been the previous year.
When Jenkins and Roman Harper are inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame later this year, they will become the third and fourth members of the 2006 Saints draft class to be inducted, joining Marques Colston and Reggie Bush.
“It’s amazing,” Evans said. “I actually played with Marques’ younger brother at Bloomsburg. He was a lineman, too! When we got drafted by the Saints together, it was ironic that we would wind up on the same team. Then, we started learning more about each other, being from the same area. It’s awesome to go in (Hall of Fame) with those guys and Pierre and Lance and all the great guys and also all the older Saints players that I’ve met throughout my career.”
Evans knows it was a steep leap to go from 3-13 to reaching the NFC championship game in 2006.
“It was, Evans said. “A lot of guys we got from other teams, they felt like the other teams just abandoned them in letting them go and they really took on that mentality when they came and we had a lot of good vets. We all just gelled together and we had great coaches that didn’t leave anything out. They made sure that they pushed the guys hard and knew what it took to win and we did that. We worked very hard and it showed. We were a half away from going to the Super Bowl that year.”
After two average seasons came the 2009 season.
“We always put emphasis on special teams because it is a part of the game. I sat in every special teams meeting as a rookie. I was in the room when they put in that play for Gleason to block that punt. We always knew that special teams would give us 20 plays a game possibly. It took all three phases of the game. We put it together. That’s why the Super Bowl is so special.”
Evans described his feelings when the final seconds ticked off in Miami and the Saints were Super Bowl champions.
“It was awesome because we were down by 10 early and we just never stopped fighting,” Evans said. “We just knew we had to keep getting at it. To see the defense do what they did all season, to go out and take the ball away, it just shows you how much we believed in each other, how much time we put in off the field. The party began after that.”
The 2011 Saints team was perhaps the most talented team in franchise history.
The Saints went 13-3 but did not earn home field advantage in the playoffs.
After beating Detroit 45-28 in the opening round of the playoffs, the Saints had to travel to San Francisco.
In a see-saw affair, the 49ers prevailed 36-32 on a touchdown with nine seconds left. It was stunning. It was numbing. It was heartbreaking.
“We were really good,” Evans said. “We’re a one-and-done league and just shows you that we only get one opportunity at that. We beat the Giants earlier (49-24) and we put up like 50 points on those guys. We had a good team but we didn’t make the plays that we needed to win. It didn’t come down to one play. We just didn’t handle business like we needed to. I think we lost Pierre early in that game on the first drive. It was a great team. That was one we probably left out there.”
The Giants went on to upset the 49ers at Candlestick Park to win the NFC and shocked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.
Then came the disastrous 2012 season and Bountygate, with a slew of suspensions. The distractions and suspensions were too much to overcome as the Saints went 7-9.
“As players, we felt we were being punished for something that was blown a little bit our of proportion,” Evans said. “You’re talking about a team that was the least penalized team that year. It was a shame. We lost two great coaches, our head coach Sean Payton and our assistant coach, Joe Vitt, for six weeks. I think the coaching staff and everybody stepped up in a big way. We stuck together as a team. We felt like we had the guys from the previous year to get it done. It’s something we can’t get back.”
Evans is proud of the legacy he and his teammates created over his 11 seasons in New Orleans but lamented what could have been.
“I think about those 11 years in New Orleans and all the great games we’ve had and all the records we put up,” Evans said. “You feel like you should have more than just one Super Bowl but it’s hard to be greedy. There’s a lot of great players out there that don’t have any.”
Along with Carl Nicks, another Saints Hall of Fame inductee, Evans was part of the best guard tandem in the league from 2008-11. Nicks departed New Orleans after the 2011 season, signing a lucrative free agent deal with Tampa Bay.
“I hoped we could have stayed together for a longer period of time,” Evans said. “Carl was the complete package. He was bigger than me, he was stronger than me, he was still as athletic as I was and able to do a lot of great things. It’s upsetting that we couldn’t keep him longer, he and Goody (center Jonathan Goodwin). Us three inside, we were very solid. We made sure that Drew (Brees) had the space to operate. It is the nature of the business.”
Evans respects and likes Brees and he spoke to him after the furor regarding Brees’ comments about standing for the National Anthem and how teammates took the great Saints quarterback to task.
“I woke up late to whatever happened,” Evans said. “I have a two-month old so I took an early nap that day and woke up around four or five o’clock and saw all the hoopla going on. I had a conversation with Drew early that next morning, very early. He just made a mistake and that’s the first thing he said. He’s innocent. We all know what kind of character that Drew has. When I say ‘we,’ that is the guys that have been in the locker room. That was never a question with us. I just encouraged the guys just to reach out to him and talk to him.”
What bothered Evans most was not what Brees said but what others have said about his friend.
“It was just disheartening to see how people reacted, to go instantly to the comments, especially guys in the NFL and guys like that,” Evans said. “Good will come from it. Drew is a great man. He has done so much in many communities and he’s going to continue to do those things and that’s something I told him. We’re not perfect and we’ll just have to move on. It was just bad timing. Like I told Drew, everything will be fine. I never in my lifetime thought I would see people in New Orleans saying ‘f…. Drew Brees.’ He’s still going to be the great man that he’s been.”
As the underdog who was a virtual afterthought of having a chance to even play in the NFL, Evans is a great man and was a great player, now getting his just due with induction into the Saints Hall of Fame. Eventually, Evans will be in the Saints Ring of Honor and he has a very, very strong case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a four time first team All-Pro and six time Pro Bowl player. Clearly, Evans was a big hit, one who many others missed out on.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…