Tramon Williams has an admirer back home in his native Louisiana who has travelled some of the same roads, knows the demands of his position and also started in the secondary for the Packers on a Super Bowl-winning team. Former Green Bay cornerback Doug Evans watches Williams from afar with a sense of pride and respect for his play.
Evans was the 141st overall pick in 1993 out of Louisiana Tech, after playing linebacker for the Bulldogs, and was immediately converted to cornerback. After serving as a reserve as a rookie, he started 63 of his next 64 games in Green Bay. Williams wasn't even drafted after departing the same school, spent some time toiling on the practice squad and now ranks among the NFL's top cornerbacks.
"Sometimes the long road is the best road," Evans said. "I'm definitely proud of him as another guy from Tech. He has worked his way up and proven himself to be a great player. Sometimes when that's the way you get started, there isn't anything that can stop you."
Evans played for the Packers through 1997, and in that five-year stretch notched 12 interceptions, six sacks and seven forced fumbles. He was in the opening lineup at right cornerback in Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII.
When Evans arrived in Green Bay, the Packers were on the cusp of greatness. Coach Mike Holmgren had been hired the year before and led the club to a 9-7 record. Reggie White signed the same year Evans was drafted. The Packers were young and hungry, advanced to the playoffs in Evans' first season, and Green Bay won their first postseason game since 1982.
"I don't think any of us had a clue how bad the losing had been before," Evans said this week. "It started with Reggie, he was a great player, had been on winning teams and he brought that experience. He was used to winning. After that, we were on our way."
Evans takes particular pride in the performance of the secondary during his tenure, which was a mix of youth and emerging veterans and was a formidable unit.
"We were good and it was a special group of players," he said. "We really got to know each other on and off the field, and it was like a miniature family. You are back on an island by yourself out there, so you have to trust each other, even outside of football. It was a good group, and a good group of friends."
The road for the fledgling Packers to their ultimate goal went through the Cowboys. In '93, Dallas defeated the Packers, 27-17. In '94, the Cowboys beat Green Bay again, 35-9. In '95, Dallas toppled the Packers, 38-27. All three were at Texas Stadium, the last in the NFC Championship.
"Those guys seemed to have the upper hand on us," Evans said. "There were a slew of good teams, including San Francisco, but we didn't have too much trouble with them. Those were some great Dallas teams."
In '96, the pieces fell into place. The Packers went 13-3, securing homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Evans had his best season statistically, with five interceptions, including a 63-yard return. Green Bay blazed through San Francisco and Carolina by a combined 65-27 in the playoffs and earned a spot in Super Bowl XXXI in the Louisiana Superdome, a homecoming for Evans, who grew up in Shreveport, La. He had to buy 30 tickets to the game.
"It was magical," Evans said. "To bring Green Bay back to the Super Bowl was really a special feeling. I had played high school games in the Superdome in state championship games. My family hadn't been able to come up to Green Bay for that many games, so they were all in New Orleans. It couldn't have been better."
Evans had an interception in the first quarter that led to a field goal, and the Packers defeated the Patriots, 35-21, for the club's first NFL title since 1967.
In '97, the Packers returned to the Super Bowl, even stomping nemesis Dallas during the regular season in the process, 45-17. Evans still believes it was a more talented squad than the year before, but they fell in Super Bowl XXXII to Denver, and it was his last season with the Packers. He signed as a free agent with Carolina prior to the 1998 season.
"It was time to test the waters," Evans said. "I didn't want to leave, but when you've gone to two Super Bowls, teams are interested in you. Once you play for other teams, you realize how special a place Green Bay is to play. The city is top-notch. You practice in training camp and there are 25,000 people there. When you play, you know the people are behind you. You realize when you get there that this is serious. That's why it's a special place to play."
Evans played for Carolina until 2001, opening 55 of 57 contests, and finished up his career after the next season in Seattle. He spent 11 years in the NFL, a good, long run for the former sixth-rounder.
"When I made the team, I thought, 'If I can just play three or four years, I'm doing pretty well,'" Evans said. "Once you get going, you realize the key to longevity in pro football is about staying in shape year-round and working hard. That's what I did."
He graduated from Louisiana Tech in finance before entering the NFL, and he has been wise with his investments since his playing days. It allows Evans to largely work with area high school football programs around Shreveport, and he makes the trip to Green Bay for a couple of games a year.
"I've been enjoying life and traveling since my playing career ended," he said. "When you play in the NFL, it's 24 hours a day as a job. That's what helped me have a long career. It was all football since grade school. I have a financial background, and that has helped me since I stopped playing."
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