Byron Evans never questions why, or asks what-if. His career, in its prime, was about to come to an end after a terrible knee injury and he never looked back.
It was 1994, Evans and the Philadelphia Eagles were 7-2 and in first place in the NFC East when they hosted the Cleveland Browns at old Veterans Stadium.
Evans, who was in negotiations for a new contract that would have paid him like the near Pro Bowl player he had become, got caught in a pile up and suffered what turned into a career-ending knee injury.
The Eagles, by the way, lost that day and every day the rest of the season going 7-9 in what has become the greatest collapse in NFL history.
“No, I don’t,” Evans says of looking back on what might have been. “It was all in the plan. In 1994, I’m playing the best football of my whole career, getting ready to sign a new contract that, as a matter of fact I had just turned down a contract.
“But the Bible says what does it profit a man to gain a whole world and lose his soul. That was me, that was me. I wasn’t married. I wasn’t doing the right thing.”
Twenty years later, Evans is happy. He is teaching high school physical education, coaching the high school football team he started and is a pastor at his church all in his home town of Phoenix.
From those who knew him then as “BNE” the nickname head coach Buddy Ryan gave him, to the man he is now there is quite a difference.
Evans laughs when that’s mentioned.
“A rich man has many friends,” he said “I wasn’t the best looking guy, but I wasn’t bad looking. I was having a good time. I was young and single living in Philly. I was having fun.
“Reggie (White) was putting out the word, the right word. He talked about being accountable, I wasn’t accountable.
“With the injury, it got me to sit back and see, to think. I never said why me? Why not me? I play a violent game, I was in a lot of pile ups before that and never got hurt. That was football.”
While the injury ended a good career that could have been even better, it started him on the path where he is now. And he couldn’t be happier about it.
“After (the injury) I got engaged, I got married. I have three beautiful children. It’s truly a blessing.”
Evans moved back to Phoenix when his career ended and began teaching first at his old junior high, 15 years ago, then moved on to the high school four years ago.
In that time he lost two of his teammates and closest friends in Reggie White and Andre Waters. Jerome Brown, another former teammate was killed in a car crash in 1991.
“It’s sad,” Evans said. “But it’s not about the length of time your here, but the time you put in when you were here. Reggie put in the time. Jerome touched so many people. Andre did so much for so many.”
Now it’s Evans’ turn. And he uses what he learned from Reggie, when the team had its weekly Bible studies; and what he misses from Waters to be what he’s become today.
“I’m enjoying everything I do,” Evans said. “Teaching has become my passion, you know coming from a big family, you have to learn to get along with everyone and work everything out, and that’s what teaching really is.”
Becoming a pastor happened when his son, Byron Jr., was young.
“Going to church with the family and my wife. She let me know that you have to be smart, do the right thing,” he said. “We needed to get this thing, right. And I saw that this is for me.
“Once you’re in the trenches, you don’t come out of the trenches. You stay in the trenches. My wife grew up in the church. I was in Philly watching the Minister of Defense for all those years, not knowing that he was prepping me for my future. Reggie was the word and said the word and we listened.
“And Andre’s mom always told us we need to go to church. We need the Lord. We need to be saved. Being politically correct we said ‘Mother, we will, but just not tonight.’ That was a different time for me. I was young and dumb and did young and dumb things.
“Fast forward to when Andre passes, I began calling Mother weekly, not knowing that what she was telling me back then was leading me to where I am today.
“And this is where I need to be, not just The Minister of Defense, The Director of the 46 Defense, or the Maestro of the 46 Defense, but that I would come back to Mother and go back to the church.”
And all those Bible studies, with Reggie, came back as well.
“Big time, we had bible study all the time,” Evans said. “We all went. I was in it, but not for the right reasons, then. I went just to be there, to see what was going on. I mean all the guys were going, so I felt I needed to go. It was for the festivities. We would have it at Reggie’s house, and I would go, knowing I would get a good meal.
“But what it was for me, what it turned out to be for me, was training, getting me ready for a time such as this. Now as I stand on the pulpit in front of my congregation, and preach the gospel, teach the gospel and not to be ashamed of the gospel, this is where I need to be."