Q&A: Tiger-Cats QB Dane Evans on what Grey Cup means to Hamilton

Watch as Arash Madani is joined by Eddie Steele discuss why Tiger-Cats' Dane Evans is the right choice to be the starting quarterback for the Grey Cup, and how he is a much different player than a few years ago.

On Sunday, Hamilton will host the Grey Cup for the first time in 25 years -- and the Tiger-Cats are the first team to play in the Grey Cup at home since 2013. They last won the Grey Cup in 1999. The 22-year drought is the longest in the CFL. The last time Hamilton won a Grey Cup at home was in 1972.

The man best positioned to end those droughts is the Ticats' newly named starting QB -- Dane Evans.

Evans started only three games this season, but gets his second consecutive Grey Cup start. He comes in playing his best football, connecting on all 16 of his pass attempts in the East final for 249 yards, while throwing for one TD and running for two more against the Toronto Argonauts. It marked the most attempts without an incompletion in CFL playoff history.

He'll face off against a former Tiger-Cat in Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros, making it the first time since 2009-2010 the same quarterbacks have started in consecutive Grey Cups.

In a conversation for the Waggle podcast, I spoke to Evans about the year that was and the opportunity that’s ahead of him. Here are the highlights of that conversation:

Sportsnet.ca: One word for you to describe the year that you have had?

Dane Evans: Unbelievable, honestly, and not like I've had an unbelievable season. It's been unbelievable for a little bit. It looks like we might not even have this season just as a whole 2020 being cancelled. That was unbelievable. Then we lost the pre-season, then we had a quarantine in the hotel before training camp, and then finally the season starts and I’m the backup again, which is great because we have a great player in Jeremiah (Masoli), and he gets hurt, and then I start playing, and then I get hurt.

And then Dave (Watford's) got to come in and all Dave does is go three and zero. And then we're right back in the playoffs again, and they tell me to warm up. You're going in the East final, and I honestly couldn't picture it that way. I didn't think it would happen that way, but it was perfect. It was just unbelievable. It's been so fun. The whole quarterback room, the whole team. It's been just a fun team this year, man. We didn't win as many games as we did in 2019 but we've won when we needed to.

And we started to get on a roll right here at the end. And it's how you finish it. So, I'm excited to be sitting right here.

SN.ca: The East final, 16 for 16. But the biggest plays you made might be getting a first down on a special-teams play and getting the ball back after a turnover. Is that the best football you’ve play?

DE: I hope not, because I know we got one more game left. And honestly, I didn't know that I was 16 for 16 until after the game. The guys actually poured water on me, and it was like a celebration in the locker room and stuff. But we were just executing as an offence. We were just kind of in that flow state, and we weren't thinking about it. Nobody was talking about it. That's what was happening. And the fake field goal sneak that we did. We have been working that for months.

And like coach O (Orlondo Steinauer) said, I think everybody knew we were doing it on our side. Had no doubt we were going to get that. And it kind of gave us a little shot in the arm that we needed, and then the strip. I still don't know how that happened. I just was trying not to let Dexter McCoil throw me to the ground because he was lead blocking on that for Shaq (Richardson) on the return, and I just saw the ball and I just grabbed it. Looking back on it, we needed that play because if they get a touchdown, our comeback might have had to be more, or it might have killed our momentum that we had started establishing. To answer your question, I hope it's not the best football I played because I want that to be this Sunday, so I'm looking forward to it.

SN.ca: It really took a quarterback room to get the team here, but as a backup in a precarious position, you prepare like you're going to start, but if you're in there, it's because something bad happened to the starter. How do you manage being grateful for the opportunity, but also knowing that your brother lost his opportunity?

DE: It's tough. I'm not going to lie to you. But thankfully, what makes it easier is Jeremiah is such a great guy and there's no egos between us, so he understands it. If I was in his position, I would understand it, too. As a competitor, obviously, you want to be out there every snap, whether you're the starter, the backup or whatever. You want to be out there, every snap to help the team win. But just the fact that it's not just a slogan, we really don't have any egos in the quarterback room and really on the team, there's personalities which ... are different, but it's all about the team for us.

Honestly, I think maybe growing up a coach's son has helped me navigate that, too. My dad has been a quarterbacks coach since I was born. He's been a high school coach for over 30 years and kind of just seeing how he manages his quarterbacks, I think maybe just being the kid who was just in every meeting growing up, I might have learned a thing.

SN.ca: After the Grey Cup in 2019 I’m sure you just wanted to burn the tape. When you eventually did watch it, was there anything that you learned that you have tried to put into practice since then?

DE: I didn't watch it for a long time, like cut-ups or TV version. And then, when quarantine happened, it's like the only thing TSN would play. So I was like, all right, we got to watch it now, watched it a couple of times just as a fan, pretending like it wasn't me out there and then watched it more with the critical eye, like the cut-ups and stuff and with all things considered as bad as the first half went at the end of the third quarter, we took a deep shot, and if we connect on that deep shot, it's a six-point game.

And, you know, we're going for two because we did that all the time in 2019. I think there was definitely some really good things we did. We had a lot of guys go down with injuries. We didn't have Speedy, Brandon Banks, the whole second half, and we still kind of started making a little comeback. Then obviously they put us away. I'm not taking anything away from them, but things we learned was just kind of what we've been saying this year is adversity is going to happen.

Coach has prepared us for any situation in the game. But once the game happens, it's all about how you react to the adversity. And I think that's the biggest thing we learned from that.

SN.ca: So much changed since then, since the last time we talked at a Grey Cup. One is the game is in Hamilton now. You are here often throughout the year. For those who don't know, can you put in context what hosting and what potentially hoisting a Grey Cup means to this community?

DE: It means everything to me and this community. It's been 22 years since the Ticats have been champions, and even longer than that since we've won at home. This town loves football. You should see the way they celebrate after a regular-season win. So, I can only imagine that's going to be amplified on a Grey cup win. I always equate it to my buddies back home, like growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, where football is king.

That's how it is in Hamilton here, too. Everybody knows you. You can't go to the store without some random person telling you, you should have thrown it here or you did this. And that's what I grew up with. I like that it makes me feel comfortable. And when you're out there, it makes it matter to you a little bit more because, you know, this whole town is watching. The little kids are watching, the old heads in the stands. They're going to be watching, too, because they've watched every game.

That's just what they do.

SN.ca: The other big difference between 2019 and now is we've had a huge cultural conversation in Canada and more broadly about the mistreatment of Native Americans, Indigenous people, and in some cases, the genocide of them. You have been at the forefront in CFL circles about representing where games are being played and whose land games are being played on. Why has it been so important to you?

DE: It's been important to me just because that's always been an important part of my background. I mean, everybody has their story and like I told you, you look at me, I just look like a normal, bald white guy walking into a room. But I kind of use that to my advantage because a lot of people don't know that I'm half Native American. My grandmother was the last speaker of our tribe. My great grandmother was taken from her reservation or taken off her land to the reservation.

And her story is crazy because she got taken off her land to the reservation and then worked for that reservation for over 40 years. And kind of turned it into a good thing, established things, which is where our tribe is still headquartered right now in Oklahoma. And I really didn't come into the season planning to do that, like, give the shout outs for what land we're playing on and honoring it. But when we were sitting Week 1 in Winnipeg, just watching TV in the hotel and they were just talking more about the mass graves they kept finding, I just felt I got to do something. And like I told you, I don't care if two people saw it or a million people saw it. I was just going to do my part, give a shout out to the land that we were playing on, honour them. And I never would have expected that people really reacted to it and responded to it. And the emails that I got from it, the fan letters that were written I got from it, the guys on the team that were telling me 'this is dope, keep it up,' we never even thought about it like that. And just trying to shed light on such a dark situation and turn it into a positive thing that we can talk about and learn from and never have to do it again. I just kind of felt called to do it, and I'm glad I did. I feel honoured that people responded to it and hopefully going forward, I can do some more with it and just keep bringing light to it.

SN.ca: You brought light to it in a way with some swag, but putting it on your cleats? What do you have on your cleats for this Sunday?

DE: I'm just wearing the OG ones that I got made. I got them touched up a little bit, and the only thing that's going to be on them is just the tribal seal right on the toe. I just wanted to keep it nice and simple. I just wanted to shout my tribe out. A lot of people don't make it off the reservation. How lucky am I that I get to play a game that you still play as a kid. And this is my job. And I just want to give them a shout out and let them know that it can be done.

SN.ca: What's great is that you're not alone, whether it's Papi White on your team or Mason Fine, now in the league, we're seeing much more representation. What is that like to see that starting to creep into CFL circles?

DE/; It's amazing to me. Native American athletes have not had the access to it because of living situations and stuff like that. And now I feel like there's a lot more people that are in tune with their native side. They realize I can make it out of here by playing sports. And it's amazing to me that we have three of us on our team and Mason Fine in Saskatchewan. And I know there's a bunch of other guys in the league, too, and I just hope that the little kids that are watching know that they can do it too. It can be done.

SN.ca: What it would mean after going through everything you've been through that, to hold that cup and pass it to your teammates and sip out of it with your brothers in the quarterback room?

DE: It would be ultimate satisfaction. I mean, ultimate gratification. That's why we do this, right? I mean, that's why we work so hard. That's why I had the blind hope for so long. Just because when I saw that trophy in 2019, for the first time in Calgary at the same media day, like, in person, that just lit the fire in me. I want all the guys on the team to have their name etched on that trophy. Some of them already do. But I want all the guys like me that don't have it etched on that trophy.

I want their names etched on there. It's there forever. That thing is not coming off, right? You can show your kids. You can show your grandkids. They'll be able to show your great grandchildren. It's there forever. And when you look at it like that, it's still a game that we play. But that ties everything back into why we do this. How many things in life do you get the chance to stamp your name on forever? And it's not coming off. So, it would be ultimate satisfaction.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.