- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

At times, they seemed more like brothers than father and son. Washington Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs and his dad, Ron, used to wage furious one-on-one battles on the basketball court. They raced each other to see who was faster.

Those days are over — and not just because Ron quit playing hoops with his son when Shawn, then 18, beat him for the first time.

The elder Springs was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992 and has become increasingly ill over the last four years. He receives dialysis three times a week and needs a kidney transplant. Worst of all, Ron’s right foot was amputated just above the ankle in February. That was especially traumatic for a man who starred at tailback for Ohio State and played fullback for the Dallas Cowboys for six seasons and the Tampa Buccaneers for two.

“It was very tough losing my foot, but it was either lose it or risk not seeing my children and grandchildren grow up,” he said. “It’s hard for people to see me this way. I can jog and walk and drive, but I spend a lot of time in a wheelchair because it takes the pressure off my legs.”

His father’s misfortune has only strengthened Shawn’s resolve to have the best season of his nine-year NFL career, even though at 30, he’s well into middle age for a player at his position.

“My father was such an active man,” Shawn said. “It’s hard seeing him deal with the dialysis and the prosthesis. He wants to see me shine. This year will be even better than last year because I had a great offseason. Last year I had a bone bruise, so I didn’t have a full offseason. And I understand [assistant head coach/defense] Gregg Williams’ system now. Gregg uses me so [many ways] that I don’t have any choice but to make plays.”

Last season Springs became the first defensive back in NFL history to lead his team in interceptions and sacks. But, then, making plays is what Ron trained him to do.

“It’s like if your dad was a mechanic, you would know a little bit about cars,” Springs said. “Having a dad who was a professional football player and an offensive player helped me out a lot. He trained me to think like an offensive player.”

Shawn was born when Ron was just 18 and headed to Ohio State after a stellar prep career as a running back in Williamsburg.

Shawn stayed behind with his grandmother — his part-time nanny was the mother of future Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor — and Ron became a star for the Buckeyes.

“I was probably a better athlete than Shawn,” Ron said. “I was 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, and I had great speed. Everybody was recruiting me and when [coaching legend] Woody Hayes asked me to come to Ohio State, that’s where I went.

“I thought I would be a first-round pick, but I hurt my knee my senior year and I didn’t get picked until the fifth round by the Cowboys. And, of course, they had Tony Dorsett at tailback, so they switched me to fullback.”

Ron adapted easily and started for Tom Landry’s teams that reached the playoffs from 1981 to 1983. He led the Cowboys in touchdowns (12) in 1981 and in receptions (73) two years later.

Shawn spent summers and vacations with his father, becoming a regular in the locker room at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch complex and at training camp.

“Me and [Dorsett’s son, Anthony] grew up in the Cowboys’ locker room,” he said. “Tony Dorsett is my sister’s godfather. I would hang out with [cornerback] Everson Walls and [defensive tackle] Too Tall Jones. I would get water for [assistants] Dan Reeves and Mike Ditka and Coach Landry.

“I knew my life was different, but my dad was just my father. It’s like my kids think it’s cool that they can be me in [video games], but I’m still their dad. When my friends and I would play football, they wanted to be Tony Dorsett or Walter Payton. I wanted to be Ron Springs.”

Ron was part of a housecleaning in Dallas that began after a disappointing 1984 season. He spent two years with the lowly Buccaneers, where his favorite memory is tutoring unpolished quarterback Steve Young in the ways of the NFL.

At 30, Ron was finished with football and beginning a second career developing commercial real estate. By that time, young Shawn was living up to his last name.

“You could tell pretty early on that Shawn was a special athlete,” Ron said. “He had the quick feet, the hand-eye coordination and the ability to make people miss. I didn’t make Shawn play football. He wanted to play, and once he was playing I just wanted to guide him. Shawn played basketball and he ran track, but football was No. 1. I think part of that was because of our special relationship.”

Howard University coach Steve Wilson hired Ron, his former Cowboys teammate, as an assistant in 1991. Wilson, a former cornerback, began coaxing Shawn, a star tailback at Silver Spring’s Springbrook High School, to try defense.

“One day Steve told me to go cover his All-American receiver [Gary Harrell],” Shawn said. “He said, ‘I want you to line up on him, put your hands on him and chase him around.’ Afterward, Steve said, ‘If you go to Ohio State and play corner, you’ll be like Deion Sanders. You’ll be the top DB to come out in a long time.’

“I’m like, ‘Are you serious? I’m going to be like Bo Jackson.’ But then my dad agreed with them, and I got talked into it.”

No one had to tell Ron that corners generally last longer than running backs because they don’t take as much of a pounding. So once he made it clear to Shawn that no son of his would be playing for Ohio State’s archrival, Michigan, he called Buckeyes coach John Cooper to offer the gift of a shutdown corner/standout return man.

“Growing up, there was a lot of pressure on me because everybody wanted me to be as good as my dad,” Shawn said. “When I was scoring touchdowns in high school, people knew I was an athlete in my own right. But I’ve always been proud that Ron Springs is my dad. When I got to Ohio State it was like, ‘His dad was a heck of a player.’ But I kind of outshined my dad when I did so well in college and went so high in the draft.”

The Seattle Seahawks made Shawn the third pick overall in the 1997 draft. He started immediately and made the Pro Bowl in just his second season.

“Shawn was more advanced than most guys coming into the league,” said Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels, a Seahawks teammate when Shawn was a rookie. “He had a knack for how to study already. I could tell his father had taught Shawn a lot.”

Shawn helped lead the Seahawks to the playoffs for the second time in five years in 2003, then signed a six-year, $31.3 million contract with the Redskins — a team he had despised because his dad was a Cowboy. Even when he lived in Silver Spring, Shawn loved the Cowboys.

“I told Shawn that the Redskins were a great place for him because coach [Joe] Gibbs is a God-fearing man who likes veteran players,” Ron said. “I go to Redskins-Cowboys games now and I root for both teams, but of course what I really want is for Shawn to do well.”

Shawn was burned by former Buckeyes teammate Terry Glenn for the Cowboys’ only touchdown in the Redskins’ victory Sept. 19, but he is living up to the standards of Washington corners who made the Pro Bowl during his career: Champ Bailey, Darrell Green and Cris Dishman.

“When you’re on a losing team and your defense isn’t ranked that well, you’re not producing,” he said. “If your defense is good and you’re not getting any balls thrown your way, then everybody says, ‘He must be a good corner.’ I might not get that many balls, but Gregg uses me in ways where I can be a part of the action.”

Which is where Ron always wanted him to be.

“I’m proud of how I raised my son,” Ron said. “I’m proud of the kind of man that Shawn is. You have to be there for your children. I hope I was a role model for Shawn.”

There’s no arguing that point.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide