Linebacker Byron Evans is putting away his usual order of three
soft tacos at El Mesquite, his favorite Mexican restaurant in
south Phoenix. This has become the unattached free agent's
training table. A road trip for Evans this season means a ride
across town to Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, the best soul food
joint in the city. And a home stand? That would be cooking up
bacon and eggs for his three-year-old daughter, Brykara, while
watching Ricki Lake.
It has been just over a year since Evans broke his right leg
while attempting what would have been the 876th tackle of his
eight-year career with the Eagles. The injury occurred during a
26-7 loss to the Browns on Nov. 13, 1994, and the next day Evans
flew to Los Angeles where his broken tibia, torn cartilage and
damaged medial collateral ligament were surgically repaired by
Dr. Clarence Shields. Evans, the team's defensive captain, was
in the option year of a three-year, $3 million pact and had just
refused Philadelphia's offer of an additional $3.4 million to
extend the deal for two years. Last February the Eagles granted
Evans his unconditional release, leaving the 31-year-old veteran
to rehab and ponder a return to active duty on his own.
Evans expected to recover in time for the start of the 1995
season, so his agent, Bert Kinerk, mounted a free-agent tour of
league camps during the summer. Evans worked out for New Orleans
and Denver and talked to three other teams. Some incentive-based
proposals came in, including a two-year, $2.4 million offer from
the Eagles. But Evans, neither at full strength nor, as a
result, at what he considered full market value, decided that a
year off was the way to go.
"You play so many games without an injury, and then all of a
sudden they just start coming," says Evans, who also missed five
games midway through the 1993 season with a broken right
forearm. "I figure lightning won't strike me three times in a
row. I'll play football again."
The only question is where. Evans has nixed playing for his
hometown Cardinals because middle linebacker Eric Hill is
entrenched as Arizona's defensive signal-caller. All too aware
that the 8-5 Eagles have the NFL's third-ranked defense without
him, Evans is hoping to latch on with a West Coast team, maybe
San Francisco or Oakland. But he doesn't rule out a return to
Philadelphia, despite his lingering bitterness over the
dismantling of the team's tight-knit defense in the early '90s.
When an El Mesquite patron asks for an autograph, Evans signs
his name and adds EAGLES #56 as a flourish. "Habit," the 6'2",
235-pounder says with a shrug.
The only football Evans has played this fall has been with his
nine nephews on the Phoenix street where he grew up. "But look
what a year off did for Mario Lemieux," Evans says. "Now he's
playing the best hockey he's ever played."