Lee Evans has long moved on from one of the biggest playoff gaffes in NFL history, although the former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver hasn’t moved far from Baltimore.
Evans, 40, lives a one-hour drive away in Northern Virginia, where he is busy investing in real estate and coaching his 13-year-old son in football, basketball and baseball. As a coach, one of the lessons Evans teaches comes from the lowest point of his eight-year NFL career.
“It’s not necessarily about what happens to you, it’s how you react to it,” Evans said. "I think the biggest thing, when you’re talking to kids, is letting them know that it’s OK to fail, and you’re going to fail. It’s going to happen. So if you can’t rebound from it, you probably won’t go very far in anything.”
It was 10 years ago on Saturday -- Jan. 22, 2012 -- when Evans failed to hold onto a potential winning touchdown catch in the waning seconds of the AFC Championship Game and cost the Ravens a trip to the Super Bowl. The 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots was sealed when Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 15 seconds left.
He has second-guessed what he could’ve done better to not let cornerback Sterling Moore slap the ball away from his grasp in the end zone, but Evans doesn’t obsess. He’s not haunted by the fact that the final pass thrown to him resulted in this dreadful moment in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
"I feel like I could have been stronger with the catch, but yeah, for a DB, that’s what they want to do,” Evans said. "They want to get their hands on the ball and knock it out. And he did a good job of doing that."
Evans still loves football. He took his son to last Saturday’s playoff game in Buffalo. Lee Evans IV is a Buffalo Bills fan because he was born in Buffalo, where his father caught 377 passes from 2004 to 2010.
The elder Evans still loves the Ravens. He has attended one game at M&T Bank Stadium a few years ago, and he believes his youngest son, 3-year-old Lyndon, will grow up to be a Ravens fan.
He still loves visiting Baltimore. He lived in the city a year after being cut by the Ravens, and he’s been making frequent trips there recently to look at real estate properties.
Every now and then, Evans does get recognized.
“There hasn’t been any type of issue,” he said. "It was all in good support.”
Evans has always been grateful for the support he received from his teammates after the game, even to this day. He recently reconnected with Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis through a mutual friend.
“He put us on a text, and my heart just smiled,” Lewis said. "I said it then: ‘One guy does not win or lose a game, a team wins and loses games, right?' And yeah, one moment that it didn't go the way he would've wanted it to go, that it is what it is. But as a brother, I loved him more. I love him more now.”
A decade ago, Evans stopped Lewis as he was boarding the bus outside Gillette Stadium. Evans knew the 36-year-old linebacker might never get a chance at getting to the Super Bowl again, and he wanted to apologize. But Lewis stopped him.
"People say it all the time, 'Oh, he should have made that catch,’” Lewis said. "I know a lot of tackles I should have made. I know a lot of things we should have done. He was one of the reasons why we was in the AFC Championship. Let's make that loud and clear. And so as a brother, I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him that he's kept himself together and he's living a really good life.”
After that game, Evans asked someone from public relations to get him a picture of his failed catch. He wanted it to serve as a constant reminder to keep pushing. For a while, the photo hung on a wall in his home.
That pic captured Evans’ final NFL game. After getting cut by Baltimore, he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he was released early in training camp.
Many of Evans’ teammates with the Ravens received a second chance, and they capitalized on it. Baltimore exacted some revenge in winning in New England in the AFC Championship Game the following season and then beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Evans was cheering the Ravens along the way.
"I knew who that team was and the potential that it had,” Evans said. "So whether I’m on that team or not, seeing what it was made up of, it was great to see them get over that hump. I was really, really happy for those guys because it was a special group of guys, for sure.”
Evans heard that the failed catch was talked about in Tom Brady’s “Man in the Arena” series on ESPN, and he plans on watching it. He can’t remember the last time he thought about the play before this.
“It’s not really on my mind a whole lot,” Evans said. "I mean, obviously when you go to games and you’re watching football and you see things happen, you think back to when you played. But it’s not really something that I think about constantly or dwell on."