Wanted: star receiver back in lineup
by Lee Ironside, sports editor
October 10, 2002
The headline reads, "Wisconsin downs IU in Lee Evans' triumphant return." We can all see it now: The star receiver returns from a torn ACL, only a week later than scheduled, and lights up the Indiana defense for four ? no, six, touchdowns.
Wouldn't that be great ...a dream come true. The sort of dream that can lift a football team's season.
However, the dream, in the format I have laid out, has the same likelihood as Catherine Zeta-Jones walking into your dorm room wearing nothing but a flat-screen TV, with the kicker being that it is all for you, and she means all.
Back to the subject at hand -- will Evans make his return this weekend? And if he does, what would it mean to a football team that has just dropped its first game of the year?
Some say he'll be back this week, others say he won't. The fact of the matter is that no one knows the answer to this question. Not Barry Alvarez, not Brian White and certainly not the guy down the hall at your apartment.
Evans was initially cleared to participate in some parts of practice back in August, shortly after announcing he would shoot for a return date of Oct. 5. That date, has since come and gone and with it a whole lot of speculation.
In the days leading up to Penn State, Alvarez rebuked all questions on the subject by saying he didn't know when Lee would play and that he didn't have medical clearance. Many thought statements like those were designed to blow smoke at Joe Paterno and not reveal the game plan. It turned out Alvarez didn't know if Evans would play.
In the post-game press conference, Alvarez finally answered the question in a truthful manner, allowing everyone a brief moment of insight into just what someone is dealing with when returning from an ACL surgery.
"That decision [to play] is made yesterday or today ? he practices, he takes a day off. At the end of the week, if it's sore or swollen, he's not going to play. If he feels good, he's going to play, I can't tell you anymore," said a visibly irritated Alvarez. "The way he practiced on Tuesday, I thought he was going to play, but he had some soreness and it didn't go away when he practiced again on Thursday, and it didn't clear up the way we wanted it to, and he didn't feel comfortable with it, so that was it."
The decision of whether or not Evans will play really is a game-time decision. Players are often listed as day-to-day in newspapers or on ESPN, but this injury appears to be the definition of day-to-day.
Still, there are several reasons to believe that Evans will be back in the lineup this Saturday.
One reason that this week will be the best week for Evans to begin playing again is the opponent. With the Badgers playing Indiana there will be those who think that there is nothing to gain by bringing back an injured player against one of the conferences perennial cellar dwellers.
Yes, there is always the risk of injury, but by bringing Evans back against Indiana, coaches shouldn't be tempted to play him more plays than he should.
By keeping Evans' plays to a minimum there will be less risk of re-injury. Not to mention that the fate of the Badgers shouldn't hang on his shoulders against IU -- that is assuming the Badgers can keep from being in a close game with the Hoosiers. It would also be a benefit to test his legs before OSU.
Another reason, and perhaps the biggest reason for speculating on a possible return for Evans this week, is the surface of the playing field. While Evans would have had to make his return on the same artificial turf that caused his injury last weekend, a return at Indiana would mean playing on a grass surface.
According to others who have returned from this injury, the pain one experiences both during and after playing on an artificial surface is markedly worse than if one had played on grass, not to mention that grass is a whole lot safer to play on than turf in general. I mean, there is no such thing in the sports vernacular as a "grass injury."
Plus, the whole injury and the speculation about when Evans is going to come back have gone well beyond becoming a distraction.
Coaches won't talk about it despite being prompted to do so countless times by members of the media. Players are not supposed to talk about the situation, but after the loss to Penn State, Brooks Bollinger admitted players are keeping one eye on what is going on with Evans when they need to have both focused squarely on their next opponent. Who can blame them, Lee Evans is one of the best offensive weapons in all of college football.
Yet the receiver set a difficult goal of returning this year. Certainly, many players would have missed the entire season or opted to wait it out for the NFL draft, which will still come calling early for Evans.
In his absence, new young receivers have earned the respect of the team, and the team will be better off for it in the long run.
In the short run, don't be surprised if Evans does not return this week or the next or the next. It is the nature of the injury, but lets hope that Evans will be on the field making his debut in Indiana, of all anti-climatic stages. There might be no touchdowns for him, but a few routes even as a decoy would make the Badger faithful nearly as happy.