Some years have been easier than others, some not easy at all, but Lee Evans always had a way of sounding optimistic even when he wasn't realistic. The veteran receiver is upbeat by nature, the kind of guy who would blow out a tire and celebrate the fact that he had three more.
Evans didn't startle anyone Tuesday when he said he felt better about the upcoming season than he did a year ago, rhetoric all too familiar during training camp. As sources of stability and promise, he pointed toward a second season under Bills coach Chan Gailey and beginning the year with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback.
OK, so it wasn't much. But at least Evans found something. And something is better than nothing.
Evans has always been a team-first guy, and he fell in line with an organization that has turned false hope into a local delicacy. Remember, this is the same outfit that asked its fans to swallow J.P. Losman replacing Drew Bledsoe, Trent Edwards replacing Losman and Fitzpatrick replacing Edwards. Evans has had six starting quarterbacks and four head coaches in his seven seasons.
"It was always some type of quarterback carousel or somebody leaving or something," Evans said. "This year, with things being in place all over again, it gives you a better sense of optimism. Guys are a little more in tune to what's going on. It gives you a good feeling that we're on the same page going into things."
Of course, it's one thing to be on the same page and another to be on the right page. Who knows? Maybe he and Fitz will discover whatever he had with Losman in 2006, when he had 82 catches for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns. Maybe the Bills' defense can stop the run and give the offense enough snaps to establish some sort of rhythm and success.
Heck, maybe the Bills will even keep the season interesting for a month or more.
The Bills have been so bad for so long that you wonder if veteran players like Evans have the passion beaten out of them. His one winning season came in his rookie year of 2004, when the Bills finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs with Drew Bledsoe at quarterback.
Evans would never say as much, but it must get tiresome walking into camp knowing you have little chance of beating the Patriots, let alone contending for a title. Former defensive end Aaron Schobel left millions of dollars on the table when he retired, saying his heart was no longer in the game. Looking back, Schobel didn't retire from football. He retired from losing.
"It is tough, but that's part of being a professional," Evans said. "You still have to play the game the way it's meant to be played and you still have to compete to win. Anybody could go out there and just play. You still have to motivate yourself, play for your teammates, play for the people in the locker room, to push yourself to win."
The Bills could be better than they were last season, but it's like saying that gasoline prices are expected to be a nickel cheaper next week. Better still isn't good enough. They were 4-12 last season. Eight wins this season would be a major achievement, and it's unlikely unless enough things fall into place.
Evans has done his best to shield himself from such realities for seven full seasons, nearly 6,000 yards receiving and no playoff games. Bledsoe was his last proven QB, and he was at the tail end of his career.
Since then, the Bills have averaged six wins a year.
Evans is a classy guy and competitive player who probably deserved more out of his career. You almost feel sorry for him until you remember that he's in the third year of a four-year contract worth $37.25 million.
The truth is, he could help the cause. He's paid like a No. 1 receiver but hasn't performed like one. Forget the depth chart. He hasn't even been the No. 1 receiver on his team the past two seasons. He still has problems getting open in single coverage and has never been proficient in getting away from double coverage.
He's had two seasons with 1,000 yards receiving or more, five years with fewer than 850 yards. He has only 81 catches for 1,190 yards in the past two seasons combined.
Last year, he had 37 catches for 578 yards, both career lows, in 13 games. If you're looking for a positive spin, consider this: It can't get much worse.
"Any time you go 4-12, you can't look back and say, 'I did everything I can,' " Evans said. "Everybody can improve in one form or another. Coming into this training camp, that's what we're looking to do -- get a little better and find a way to help the football team win."