Mike Evans has made a lot of fans in his two years in the NFL, but perhaps none bigger than the Newsome family of Palm Harbor.
On Monday, Evans spent some time after practice reconnecting with Adam Newsome, younger brother of Drew Newsome, who died in December of 2014 after receiving several special gifts from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wide receiver. Newsome, long-time friend Mike Schaefer and several other buddies visited the Buccaneers' training camp on Monday on the invite of Mike Greenberg, the team's director of football administration.
It was through the efforts of Schaefer and Greenberg that Adam Newsome first got to visit One Buccaneer Place in 2014 and acquire an autographed jersey from Evans, his brother's favorite player. Drew was near the end of a very difficult battle with Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome, a rare genetic cancer that leads to vascular tumors all over the body. During Adam's initial visit, Evans also presented him with a promise: He would try to score a touchdown for Drew in the Bucs' upcoming game at Detroit.
Evans did indeed score against the Lions – twice – and after the first touchdown he knelt to say a short prayer for Drew Newsome. Two days later, Newsome's fight came to an end and, upon his request, he was buried in the jersey Evans had given him. Later, Greenberg personally delivered the football that Evans had scored with in Detroit, bearing the receiver's autograph. In the time since, the Buccaneers have kept in contact with the Newsome family and invited them to One Buc Place on several occasions. Adam's visit on Monday gave Evans a chance to reflect on his brief but powerful connection with Drew.
"It is great," said Evans. "I got to make an impact on that guy's life. He died and wanted to be buried in my jersey. That's something that you've got to think about when you play this game. I'm happy I could make an impact."
Adam, Mike and their friends watched Monday's practice from a VIP tent and then had a long visit with Evans after the final horn. Both the Newsome family and the young Buc receiver clearly value their ongoing relationship.
"He's just a stand-up guy," said Newsome of Evans. "We were really excited when he came to the Bucs in the first place. You could tell that he was an outstanding player. Then speaking to him, he was just really down to earth. He was sad. You could see the sorrow in him when I told him the story and we were talking about it. You could tell that it was genuine and it affected him.
"For him to tell us that it inspired him to play better, and just to see the amount of effort at that Detroit Lions game to catch that ball, to make that promise and to keep that promise, that's powerful. That's something that you don't see every day, especially from an athlete like that. Somebody that we regard in such a high status, for him to be humbled and just to put himself in that position and then deliver, the guy is just outstanding."
Adam and Drew's father, Kelly, couldn't join the group on Monday's visit but he was given the football from Detroit because he is considered the family's anchor. He spent every day with Drew during his son's struggles and always made sure to watch Buccaneer games with him, right up to that unforgettable afternoon in Detroit.
"It meant more to him than anything, especially with him raising us as Bucs fans, from little kids all the way up to that moment," said Adam of his father. "We have the utmost respect for the organization. You can just tell that they care, they genuinely care. Here we are now, two years after the fact, and Mike [Greenberg] and Mike [Schaefer] still have a relationship and they're able to bring us out here. They know we love the Bucs and that's why at the end of the day we reached out to them, because we love the organization and it's good to see that the organization loves us back. It shows us that they do care, and that's awesome."
Schaefer made his initial connection with the Buccaneers after a random but well-timed call from a member of the team's ticket sales staff. Schaeffer relayed Newsomes' story, which the Buccaneer staffer passed on, eventually to Greenberg, who set up Adam's meeting with Evans. That led to the receivers' emotional moment on the field in Detroit, though that paled to the emotion it caused in the Newsome household.
"When I think about it, I still get chills," said Schaefer. "We were all at Drew's house while he was sedated and close to the end. The family and I and a couple friends, we were there watching the game. He even told us when we were here getting the jersey signed that, 'I'm going to try to score one for Drew.' I still remember it like it was yesterday. When he scored and took the knee, I was just blown away. I actually broke down crying when it happened. I couldn't believe it.
"I couldn't think of a more special kind of dedication you can do for someone – promise something and pulling it through on the highest level, the NFL stage. I'm still just blown away with how they've stayed involved. "
Added Adam Newsome: "I get chills talking about it or just thinking about it. My whole family was sitting there and Drew was in the other room watching the game while in hospice. To see Mike Evans catch that ball and say the prayer was just unbelievable for our family. It was powerful. Even more after that, to have Mike Greenberg and his wife come to our home and drop off the signed football, the actual football that he caught, was powerful."