It's difficult to lose any member of the Jets' football family, be he a Super Bowl III hero or a player who had a short but impactful stay with the Green & White before he was gone.
Josh Evans fell into that latter group, and into the way-too-young category as well. The gregarious and talented defensive lineman, who played most of his career for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans before coming to the Jets for 23 games from 2002-04, died Thursday night in Fayetteville, GA, after a year-long battle with kidney cancer. He was 48 years old.
Evans came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama-Birmingham, starting with Dallas and then sticking for five seasons with the Oilers and Titans, including as a starter for their Super Bowl XXXIV team after the 1999 regular season.
He had a healthy ego, as captured by a quote he offered when he first signed as a street free agent with the Jets in July 2002: "Before all the madness came about, when we went to the Super Bowl, I probably was one of the best at the position."
In fact, the 6'3", 280-pound Evans was a very good 3-technique tackle, and Jets fans got to see that during the thin pinnacle of his career in the early 2000s. He started all 16 games for the '02 Jets, posting a career-high six sacks, adding 7.0 more tackles for loss/no gain and totaling 48 total tackles.
Possibly his best game as a Jet came in the Meadowlands against Denver that season. Although slightly overshadowed that day by LB Marvin Jones' 17 tackles, Evans had seven tackles, a sack of Brian Griese and two tackles at the line in the 19-13 win over the Broncos that helped set the stage for the Jets' fantastic regular-season finish as AFC East champions and playoff qualifiers.
"I came here with all intentions of being the starting 'three,' " Evans said that summer. "No doubt, I can play the hell out of the position, especially because for the first time somebody's letting me use my strength, which is getting off the ball, getting upfield and causing havoc in the backfield.''
Some of his Jets teammates at the time offered praise for his game. Future Pro Football Hall of Fame center Kevin Mawae said, "Josh has always been a guy who you know you're going to bring your lunchbox for." And LB Jason Glenn said Evans was "the quickest big man I've ever seen."
Evans also was a big, friendly puppy dog to fans and reporters, always ready with a smile and a laugh and a first name for the questioner. Unfortunately, he also had a mid-career battle with substance abuse. He lost the 2000 season to an NFL suspension, won an appeal when he came to the Jets, but then was suspended again in June 2003.
"I love the game," he said then. "I put myself in this situation, regardless how I feel about it."
Evans returned to play in the final six games that season, then played in the 2004 opener, when he suffered a disc injury in his lower back that required surgery. He went on Injured Reserve and never played for the Jets or in the NFL again.
But Evans' skills and his personality lived on. As he fought his battle against the disease that claimed his life, the Titans honored him as "12th Titan" in their game against the Texans this past October. Also last year he was inducted into the UAB Athletics Hall of Fame.
"His fight against cancer was one of courage and strength and his teammates were by his side encouraging him throughout that fight," Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk in a statement released by the team. "We will remember his big personality and even bigger smile."