Q: What do the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and Auburn Tigers have in common?
A(1): Each has played at least one post-season game in 2014
A(2): Heath Evans has played for all of them
What Forrest Gump was to pop culture in the second half of the 20th century, Evans is to football this month.
Evans – the smart fullback who spent ten seasons with the Hawks, Pats, Saints (and Dolphins) – now regularly shares his insights with you on NFL Network… and with me in the hallways of NFL Network whenever I can trap him for a few minutes.
Along with the heaps of great anecdotes about Jerry Rice’s time in Seattle, winning a ring in New Orleans, and watching the original Beast Mode run from the sidelines as a member of the Saints, Evans is especially insightful on the mindset of one Bill Belichick. Matter of fact, I’ve taken to calling him ‘The Hoodie Whisperer’. Evans’ admiration for his former coach runs deep (so deep, in fact, he even claims Belichick has a sense of humor!), but simultaneously demystifies ‘The Patriot Way’: To hear him tell it, there’s not some metaphysical magic at work. Rather, it’s Belichick’s practical trust in his players to not only know their own jobs, but – literally – the responsibility of every other teammate involved in any particular play design.
So I asked the Hoodie Whisperer what he expected from the Pats on Sunday.
“They’re gonna take the air of it.”
Really? Don’t you think the plan should be to just pick on Quentin Jammer all day?
“They’re gonna run the ball.”
Does that mean we’ll see a ton of LaGarrette Blount? Or might Belichick throw a curveball and go with Shane Vereen?
“No, Shane’s dropped some balls lately. Bill definitely doesn’t like that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of Stevan Ridley… (Denver DT Terrance) Knighton is real solid, but a guy like Ridley might be able to get some quick hitters past him.”
Like anybody else, the Hoodie Whisperer can’t talk for long about Belichick without getting around to Tom Brady.
What’s Brady like?
“As humble and nice a ‘superstar’ as there is… he’s really just one of the guys. He’s a really hard worker.”
Willie McGinest – another longtime Patriot-turned-NFL-Network-analyst – furthers this point: “Win or lose, when we got on that team plane to go home, Tom went straight to back of the plane, took up a whole row, turned on his laptop and started studying for next week.”
The Hoodie Whisperer: “Yep, you hear it about a lot of guys, but Tom honestly doesn’t care about his numbers. He only cares about winning.”
Yeah, but isn’t that true of every QB? Does Peyton Manning care about his stats?
“Peyton knows how many touchdowns he’s thrown, believe me.”
“I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think he thinks his touchdown passes give his team the best chance of winning.”
The Hoodie Whisperer is not what Broncos and some Colts fans call a “Peyton Hater”. In fact, he raves about what #18 can figure out about a defense – and how quickly he can figure it out – before every snap he takes. Virtually anyone who’s played against Peyton supports this.
This week, I also kibitzed with Terrell Suggs, who was on the field for the win against Manning’s Broncos last January in the divisional round. Did Suggs – who’s been trash-talking rival QBs since before Richard Sherman was catching passes at Stanford – have a withering crack about Peyton’s overtime interception?
“It showed Peyton’s character. He came into our locker room after the game… I’ve never seen that before… an opposing quarterback… and he and Ray Lewis talked like high school buddies for an hour. Made me say I’m no longer an adversary of Peyton Manning.”
The comment is especially stunning when held in sharp relief to his response about his feelings for Brady.
True or false, Suggs: you really don’t like Tom Brady.
“True… it’s football history… the whole thing… the knee pointing, the Brady Rule, all of it.”
To be fair, Suggs also says he’s “seeing his therapist” to quell said disdain… but my takeaway is this: Both Manning and Brady are good at football. Seriously. When you beat someone a lot, it tends to cause raw feelings.
Which leads me to another takeaway: The Hoodie Whisperer, T-Sizzle, and (at least 97% of) all pro football players are human beings. They work year ‘round with the goal of reaching the Super Bowl, but in seven of the past twelve seasons, they’ve instead had to sit and watch Brady or Peyton play in the big game. That means an inordinate number of an entire generation of football players have had an inordinate number of their seasons within their relatively brief football-playing lives ended by either Brady or Peyton. And you think you’ve got reasons to hate them? Come to think of it, we should be amazed we don’t hear more disdain for either guy. Instead, we hear almost nothing but respect and admiration.
So what’s any of this mean? And does any of it have an impact on Sunday’s game? Heath doesn’t know. Neither does Suggs. No one knows. One thing we do all know, though: two legacies are on the line. The winner will get a shot at immortality. The loser will be judged harshly. Except by his fellow players.
Warning: do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the results of Championship Sunday.
(4-0 last week; 170-96 on the season)
NE: J. Edelman – 7 rec, 90 yds, 2 TDs
DEN: P. Manning – 402 yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
SF: F. Gore – 27 carries, 110 yds, TD
SEA: M. Lynch – 27 carries, 88 yds, TD
Enjoy the title games! I hope your team wins…