Q&A: Dane Evans on Grey Cup, Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans and his ascension

Travis Lulay and Sean Reynolds look at the final day of preparation for Grey Cup action, with the Ti-Cats and Blue Bombers looking ready for action.

For the first time since 1980 both Grey Cup teams are without their season opening quarterback.

But Zach Collaros has been here before, both as a starter and a back-up. This is the first time Hamilton Tiger-Cats Dane Evans has been on this stage and many CFL fans are learning about his story for the first time. Since 2000 only Ryan Dinwiddie (0) and Ricky Ray (12) have had fewer career starts before starting in the Grey Cup than the 13 Evans has had.
It wasn’t long ago Evans was behind both Jeremiah Masoli and Johnny Manziel in Hamilton. Now ending, the Tiger-Cats’ 20-year championship drought rests on his shoulders.

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Not only is he 10-2 since taking over for the injured Jeremiah Masoli, he’s undefeated in his last six with 2,121 yards passing, 72 per cent completions with 12 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. The last time he faced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers vaunted defence, he completed 72 per cent of his passes and was sacked just once.

While capturing some video content and recording the Waggle podcast for the CFL, I got some exclusive time in a room with Evans and what he’s after, the Grey Cup. Here’s the portion of our conversation that stuck out to me and explain how he’s been able to play so well so quickly.

SN: Welcome to the Grey Cup. This is the closest you’ve got to the trophy. What do you think of it?

Dane Evans: It’s awesome man. It really is. Just looking over at it, it’s a little bigger than I thought I would be. Just looking at all the names on it is really cool because those names are on there forever.

That same trophy, people from the 1940’s, 1950’s, the great Ti-Cat teams before and all the other great teams, they’ve all held it. I mean that’s what we’ve been working for, for, shoot, six months, just about.

To be this close to it makes you want to lock in and go after it on Sunday.

SN: What a year you’ve had. You start the season on your honeymoon rushing to get back for camp and now you’re here on the doorstep of winning it. Put in perspective, what a whirlwind it’s been.

Dane Evans: That’s exactly what it’s been, a whirlwind.

Everything has been happening so fast, so crazy but at the same time I wouldn’t do it any other way. My wife, Nikki, she made a huge sacrifice. She came up during the season for the summer months, because she’s a teacher back home, so she spent the summer in Hamilton. But once school started back in the States she had to go home and she’s only come up a couple times since then.

She’s actually coming to the game this week so that will be awesome.

SN: You’ve had a lot of positives recently but you’ve also had a negative with the death of your aunt. How did you manage the grieving along with the preparation and getting ready for such a big moment in your life?

Dane Evans: I think it puts everything in perspective, honestly, when something like that happens and you lose someone that you’re so close to.

As a human, not even as a football player, you’re going to miss them. You’re going to think of all the great memories you had together, all of the laughs and the cries you had together. But I think that also helps you in preparing for a game, too, because it gives you a perspective on, man I’ve been watching film for four hours I need to get away from it, I need to go for a walk, I need to call my wife, I need to get away from it and then I’ll get back after it.

So, it kind of puts everything in perspective.

SN: You guys have a really tight QB room. As you got your opportunity, Jeremiah Masoli lost his. How has it been for you to be around him as you’ve gone through this process?

Dane Evans: It’s really been awesome. And I know that’s hard to say after a guy tears his knee up like that, but he has really been nothing but a professional about everything.

He’s nothing but a great person. He’s a great husband to his wife. He’s a great father to his kids. He’s just a great person through and through. He shows his maturity and professionalism helping me get ready every week.

Other than when he’s in treatment he’s been in every meeting. He travels to every away game. He comes to everything for all the home games. Even though he’s not playing he’s still a huge factor to the success of this team.

SN: We are in Calgary, and a lot of people are comparing you to a guy who plays in this city, Bo Levi Mitchell. A kid from Texas that slings it and when he got his opportunity he was ready. When you hear those types of comparisons what does it mean to you?

Dane Evans: I’m just honoured and humbled to have that comparison. Bo is one of the best quarterbacks in this league and honestly one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever watched, college, pro, CFL, it doesn’t matter, My man can really sling the ball.

After we played them this year, he came up to me and gave me some word of advice. That was a really cool moment. Two Texas kids all the way up here in Canada just showing love to each other. It was something that I honestly didn’t expect because I was so wrapped up in the game. For him to take a moment to come over, especially the way the game ended on a crazy blocked kick, for him to come over and dap me up and give me some words of advice was really special and I’m just honoured to draw those comparisons.

SN: You made some comparisons this week that Grey Cup week being like bowl week when you were back at Tulsa. How are you different now as a player and a person than when you went through that experience as a collegiate athlete?

Dane Evans: I think I know more of what to expect. I know that’s weird to say as this is my first experience ever being at a Grey Cup. But in life you try to draw similarities from things that you’ve experienced, especially when you’re in uncomfortable situations.

I was lucky enough to go to three bowl games with Tulsa. They’re fun weeks. They’re busy with media, you have events to go to, you’re getting new jackets and all that stuff. This is very similar to that. This is obviously on steroids compared to a standard bowl game down South.

SN: What would it mean for you to see your name join that list on the Grey Cup?

Dane Evans: It would mean everything, honestly. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a football player. As a kid I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know hard it was to get to the NFL, CFL or even get a college scholarship. To see my name etched on this thing along with my brothers on this team, that would be the ultimate.

SN: Your name will be on the Cup if you win it but you’ll be celebrating with family on the field. Can you imagine what that would be like?

Dane Evans: I can kind of picture it. I’m a real visual guy, I like to visualize things. I can see them out there smiling and congratulating with hugs and kisses.

When we won a bowl game my senior year in Tulsa, it was similar, everyone was down on the field. It’s just an ultimate time of elation, everyone is so happy with what you’ve worked so hard for, for six months up here finally comes to an end.

Only one team is fortunate enough to end the season on a win and really want that to be us especially for the guys in the locker room and everybody’s family that’s making the trip.

SN: Can you put in words what it might mean for the city of Hamilton?

Dane Evans: Before we could even leave they were 20 deep walking to the bus. It was a 30-step walk and it took like 15 minutes. People were out there, they had a DJ set up, face paint, black and gold, the whole thing. Just to see that before you come out here and play for the Cup. I just can’t even imagine what the parade is going to look like.

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