Earning All-American honors in one sport is tough enough, but two sports? There’s only one Jayhawk to have accomplished that rare feat — Ray Evans.
He was named as a first-team All-American twice in basketball in 1942 and 1943 in addition to being tabbed to the All-Big Six teams those seasons. He earned All-American honors in 1947 for his efforts on the football field as well.
He also ran track and played baseball for one season in 1942.
"I always thought there were two categories of athletes at the University of Kansas — one category was for him and one was for everybody else," former Kansas football coach Don Fambrough, an ex-teammate of Evans, told the Lawrence Journal-World following Evans’ death in 1999.
Evans suited up on the football field from 1941-42 and from 1946-47 and played basketball from 1942-43 and from 1946-47.
Evans was drafted twice in 1944. He was drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Bears and the United States Armed Forces.
Charlie B. Black garnered many awards as a forward. The All-American standout played under Phog Allen from 1942-43 and 46-47.
Evans served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was discharged midway through the 1945-46 season and played in the last five games. Kansas won the Big Six that season for its first conference championship since before the war. He averaged 8.3 points in that shortened season, as Kansas lost to eventual NCAA Tournament champion Oklahoma A&M — now Oklahoma State — in the district playoff.
In his senior season, Evans averaged 5.7 points per game. The Jayhawks placed third in the conference, and finished 16-11 with Howard Engleman serving as head coach in place of an influenza-stricken Phog Allen. After the season, Evans was drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1947 BAA Draft.
Following the 1946 basketball season, Evans returned to the football field for the first time since the 1942 season.
Evans earned All-American honors in football in 1947, after Kansas lost to Georgia Tech in the school’s first bowl game — the Orange Bowl. He and fellow Jayhawk Otto Schnellbacher were the first first-team AP All-Americans in Kansas football history. Evans picked up All-Big Six accolades in 1942 and 47 as well.
Evans was a jack of all trades on both sides of the field. The College Football Hall of Fame called him “one of the last of the great two-way players.”
1942 was a solid season for Evans. His 1,117 yards passing in 1942 led the country. His 10 grabbed interceptions that year led the NCAA as well. Even more than 70 years later, Evans is still the only player in NCAA history that had the most yards passing and the most picked off passes in the country in the same season.
He led Kansas in yards receiving in 1941 with 235 yards on 18 receptions. In 1942 and 46, Evans led the Jayhawks in yards rushing (293 yards and 459 yards respectively). He also led Kansas in passing in 1942, 46 and 47, totaling 2,368 yards passing for his career.
He remains on the all-time charts as well, sitting at 15th in career passing yards, 11th in total offense (3,799 yards) and ninth in all-purpose yards. His 17 career defensive interceptions is still a Kansas program record as well.
After his college career, Evans played one season in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers, played for the BAA’s New York Knicks and received an invitation to play with the MLB’s New York Yankees (though he didn’t accept the offer).
Because of his standout efforts on the hardwood and the gridiron, his No. 15 jersey is retired in Allen Fieldhouse and his No. 42 is retired in Memorial Stadium, as his name is enshrined on the Ring of Honor. He’s only the third Kansas football player to have his number retired, along with John Hadl and Gale Sayers. Those three, along with Jim Bausch, are the only four Jayhawks inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Evans was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964.
Evans’ basketball jersey was retired on Feb. 22, 1997.
“I always look to the right and see the ‘Beware of the Phog’ banner,” Evans said during the retirement ceremony. “Now I’ll have to look to the left, also.”
He died two years later.
"As an athlete, he was a super athlete. As a teammate you couldn't ask for anything better. He gave his all at all times — 100 percent," Schnellbacher said following Evans’ death. "He was inclusive in his acceptance of all his ballplayers.”
— Edited by Frank Weirich