Jump to content
Washington Football Team Logo

Ex-Cowboy counts his blessings--Shawn Spring's Dad


Recommended Posts


01:53 AM CST on Thursday, November 24, 2005

By BARRY HORN / The Dallas Morning News

The legs that Ohio State coach Woody Hayes recruited in the mid-1970s to replace college football's only two-time Heisman Trophy winner sit propped in a wheelchair. The right foot was taken during an extended hospital stay this year, the victim of a staph infection that almost killed him.


Former fullback Ron Springs, 49, lost his foot this year because of complications from diabetes. He's awaiting a new kidney. The arms that once cradled 73 passes in a single Cowboys season have withered.

Diabetes is a constant companion. A new kidney is a must.

But Ron Springs' spirit remains unbowed. He refuses to let physical problems get the best of him.

"Be down?" Springs says, repeating part of a question before turning his wheelchair ever so slightly to make sure he is looking his inquisitor in the eye. "How can I be down? I'm the one who is truly blessed. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm thankful. Look how many years I did things."

Still, some old friends, his best and biggest-name friends, find it difficult to visit Springs these days.

"I pray for him all the time," says Tony Dorsett, an old roommate. "Thinking of that big, old, robust body ... it's so hard ... it brings me to tears."

Springs was never a Cowboys star. Such glory isn't fated when you spend season after season lining up at fullback in a backfield alongside Hall of Famer Dorsett. But he sure "did things."

Reminders clutter the den of Springs' North Dallas home.

There is Springs' No. 23 Ohio State jersey framed on the wall and a No. 24 jersey from the Seattle Seahawks that once belonged to Springs' son, Shawn, who now plays for the Washington Redskins. There's a lithograph of Tom Landry and framed newspaper clippings. There are enough signed game balls to last a month of NFL Sundays.

There's a photo of No. 20 in a Cowboys jersey running right. And there's one of him running to his left.

"You know, the doctors said I could lose my life or lose my foot," Springs volunteers, interrupting the tour. "I said, 'You can take my foot. I need to see my grandkids grow up. I got to tell them all about their daddy and granddaddy. ... I don't need no foot where I'm going, anyway.' "

Springs, 49, is forever volunteering information. His gift for gab remains as bountiful as it was in the early 1980s when he was the unofficial spokesman for Cowboys players.

A visitor doesn't conduct an interview with Ron Springs. Not this day or on subsequent visits. Springs assumes control of a meeting from "hello," rattling off colorful stream-of-consciousness stories complete with dates, spellings of names and necessary phone numbers to confirm information.

When you went to high school with Lawrence Taylor, captained a college football team for the volcanic Hayes, studied at the elbow of the studious Landry, played alongside Dorsett and Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones and Drew Pearson, Tony Hill and Everson Walls, you have a story or 10 for every occasion.

Back in his six seasons with the Cowboys, Springs was known as a locker room lawyer, a standup comic and the designated preacher along the famed "Ghetto Row" – as veteran black players laughingly dubbed their section of lockers – at the rickety old training shed in North Dallas. In the early 1980s, the Cowboy nicknamed "Idi," for a perceived resemblance to Ugandan ruler Idi Amin, often mock-preached in his best Martin Luther King Jr. voice to anyone who would listen.

"How long?" Springs would sing out.

"Not long!" replied the hallelujah chorus in jocks and socks.

"We were a bunch of characters back then," recalls Walls. "And Ron was the leading character."

The stoic Landry never quite knew what to make of Springs, who always preferred loud and funny to quiet and reflective.

Whenever one of the "Ghetto Row" residents dipped a toe in mischief, Landry and Cowboys management reflexively labeled Springs as the probable instigator.

"I knew more football than anyone on the team," Springs says. "That's because I sat beside Coach Landry for six years during film sessions. ... It was at his invitation. ... He didn't want me in the back of the room causing a commotion."

College days

Woody Hayes did not look kindly on junior college transfers. The legendary Ohio State coach believed he needed four years to mold players. But Hayes was smitten with Ron Springs, a blur from Williamsburg, Va., by way of Kansas' Coffeyville Community College.

While Archie Griffin was winning a second consecutive Heisman Trophy in 1975, Springs was gaining 2,047 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns at Coffeyville. He was as strong as any fullback and as fleet as any halfback.

"If Woody recruited Ron from a junior college, it speaks to much more than just to his football ability," says Steve Snapp, an assistant athletic director at Ohio State who was then the sports information director. "It speaks to what Woody thought of him as a person."

If Hayes wasn't totally smitten with the gift of gab Springs perfected while chatting with clients at his mother's beauty shop, the coach admired the effect it had on others.

"Players voted for captain," Snapp says. "But it wasn't a democracy. Woody had the final word."

Springs got his chance to shine at Ohio State in 1977 as a junior and responded with 1,166 rushing yards. He also led Hayes' passing-shy team with 16 receptions.

But his senior season did not end happily ever after. Problems began when Hayes demoted incumbent starting quarterback Rod Gerald, a black South Oak Cliff High graduate, in favor of white freshman Art Schlichter. Veteran players, black players in particular, voiced disapproval.

Springs, in his role as captain, believed it his charge to warn Hayes of an unhappy locker room. Hayes would not budge. Springs, hurt at being ignored, stopped communicating with his coach.

In the third game of the season, Schlichter pitched back to Springs, who was hit by Baylor linebacker Mike Singletary. Springs' left knee was hard-scrambled. He missed the next three games and limped home with 585 yards for the season.

Springs' lasting legacy at Ohio State, however, may be for a play he never made.

On Dec. 29, 1978, with Ohio State trailing Clemson, 17-15, in the waning minutes of a meaningless Gator Bowl, Hayes called for a pass, "fire 23, halfback circle." It was supposed to go from Schlichter to Springs.

Instead, Schlichter's errant throw landed in the hands of unsuspecting Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman. Fate took him out of bounds in front of Hayes, who inexplicably sucker-punched Bauman. The 65-year-old Hayes, after 28 years on the job, was fired the next day.

Springs never discussed the play or the punch with Hayes, who died in 1987. Springs never talked to him about anything after that season. He never told the coach how much he once meant to him.

"When I was in the hospital, I realized I never went back to see Woody," Springs says. "I regret that to this day. It was so silly."

Had they talked, Springs may have been surprised to learn it was Hayes who called the Cowboys on the eve of the 1979 NFL draft to lobby for a running back with a suspect knee.

"You need to draft this Springs kid," Hayes instructed Gil Brandt, then the Cowboys' vice president for personnel.

"It looked like we took Ron higher than we should have," Brandt says, "but Woody was insistent."

Catching on

"Higher" meant making Ron Springs the 136th player taken. He was the 22nd running back. The Cowboys selected Springs in the fifth round with their seventh selection, behind the likes of Ralph DeLoach, Bob Hukill and Curtis Anderson – none of whom made it past training camp.

Springs, speedy enough to have run on Ohio State's 4x100 relay team but realistic enough to see a 5-11, 195-pound roadblock named Dorsett, reinvented himself. He added 20 pounds, learned how to lower his shoulder and reluctantly morphed into a fullback in his second season in Dallas.

"I didn't really want to move at first, but after I learned the blocking schemes, I started to enjoy it," Springs says. "And I liked catching the ball."

Fullbacks in those days were more than glorified blockers. Springs gained 2,140 yards in six seasons. In 1981, his first season as a full-fledged starter, he gained just under 1,000 yards rushing and receiving while leading the team in touchdowns (12) and sharing the lead in receptions (46). In 1983, he upped his yards to 1,130 and finished fourth in the NFC with 73 receptions. In 1984, Springs lost his starting job to Timmy Newsome.

That hardly bothered Cowboys management, which had grown weary of Springs' chirpy personality.

If Springs didn't always lead the team in on-field statistics, he always led the Cowboys in speaking his mind. He was the locker room go-to guy for notepads and minicams.

When veteran defensive back Benny Barnes was unceremoniously cut after a dozen seasons in 1983, Springs publicly decried the callousness of the move. He was vocal in his support of Gary Hogeboom over incumbent Danny White in the great quarterback controversy of 1984. Before the 1985 season, Springs served as spokesman for Dorsett during a training camp holdout.

And then there was a highly publicized bar fight after the 1984 season when Springs, then 28, punched a Dallas police officer.

Not surprisingly, Springs was among the final cuts before the 1985 season opener. He spent his final two NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Dallas remained his home.

The morning after Springs was cut by the Cowboys, News columnist David Casstevens, in a farewell ode to a media favorite, described Springs as "the Bre'r Rabbit of the Cowboys. Sassy. Smilin'. Laughin'. Bein' himself. Speakin' his mind."

Later in the column, Casstevens quoted Dorsett describing his departing buddy's philosophy: "Why take life so seriously, when you're gonna die anyway?"

Old friends

Two decades later, Ron Springs prefers that his old Cowboys teammates and other friends visit him at home on Tuesdays, Thursdays or weekends. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are reserved for dialysis. The four-hour morning sessions are draining.

"Boring, too," Springs says. "No one to talk to."

Springs' diabetes was diagnosed 13 years ago.

"Bad genes," he says.

He began watching his diet and checking his blood sugar levels three times a day. But mostly, he went about his business.

When son Shawn received a football scholarship to Ohio State, Ron began spending his fall weekends in Columbus, watching his favorite defensive back. When the Seahawks made Shawn the third pick in the 1997 NFL draft, Ron was in New York for the hoopla.

When Shawn became a free agent after the 2003 season, Ron advised him to accept a $31 million offer to join the Washington Redskins and coach Joe Gibbs. On the day Shawn signed, father and son had dinner with Gibbs.

Gibbs, a noted workaholic, asked Springs how Landry finished work every day by 5 p.m.

"I told him Coach Landry was a genius," says Springs. "He could coach every position on the field. His knowledge was unmatched."

By January 2004, the diabetes was wreaking havoc on Springs' kidneys. Doctors informed him a new kidney was a must.

A simple cut on his right foot early this year continued Springs' downward spiral.

Infection, a byproduct of his diabetes, set in and raced toward his heart. Doctors told the former running back he would have to lose the foot. Springs spent almost three months in the hospital battling and recovering.

Springs was touched by all of the former teammates who rushed to his side. This time it was Dorsett who was the spokesman in the friendship.

"Tony went and told everybody that his boy was not doing too good," Walls says. "But he wasn't a great spokesman for Ron. Word somehow got to the [NFL] Players Association that Ron had died. They sent flowers for a funeral."

In their private time together, it is Springs who often has to comfort his friend.

"He feels sorry for me," Springs says. "I tell him don't cry for me; I'm blessed. I have a great wife in Adriane. I have three healthy children. My boy is a rich man. My oldest daughter is an 'A' student at Ohio State. My baby is a gift; she's a junior in high school."

When the need for a kidney arose, Springs' children volunteered to be donors. But their father wouldn't even hear of having them tested for compatibility.

"Shawn's gone kind of crazy," says Adriane Springs. "He's been all over the Internet looking for solutions. Money is no object."

Springs' doctors think they have found a match. A 42-year-old niece who lives in Atlanta has been identified as a potential donor. Other nieces and nephews have volunteered in case that doesn't work out. Assorted relatively minor medical problems must be treated before any transplant.

"The day will come that Ron is up and running with the grandchildren," says Adriane Springs.

Ron Springs, however, sees it slightly differently.

"I want that transplant so I can keep talking trash," he says, a broad smile creeping across his face "It'll be good trash, of course."


Born: Nov. 4, 1956, in Williamsburg, Va.

College: Ohio State

NFL career: Cowboys (1979-1984); Tampa Bay (1985-1986)

Family: Wife Adriane; son Shawn, a defensive back for the Washington Redskins; daughter Ayra, an Ohio State junior; daughter Ashley, a junior at Plano West Senior High School


Sports trivia fans know that Tony Dorsett set an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 3, 1983. That it occurred before a national television audience on Monday Night Football has added to its lore.

The truth, however, is that the play called for Ron Springs to run the ball.

"We were backed up in our end zone when Tony Hill ran in with a play from Coach [Tom] Landry," Springs recalls. "Tony Hill said, 'Jayhawk.' That was my signal to leave the field for a pass play."

Only the play Landry really called was an inside trap for his fullback, Springs.

Standing on the sideline, Springs recognized there were only 10 players in the Cowboys' formation when the team broke the huddle.

Landry noticed it, as well. He was not happy to see Springs standing nearby and said so.

"What good would it have done for me to run out on the field at that point?" Springs asked.

Instead of Springs, Dorsett stepped up in a single-back formation and took the handoff.

The rest is history.

"All I was trying to do is make the best of a bad situation," Dorsett says.

Could Springs have gone 99 yards on the play?

"Maybe if they let me stop and catch my wind at midfield," he says.


Wow. I realize I have SO much to be thankful for today. All the bickering and fussing on this board means NOTHING in the scheme of life.

I wish THIS ex cowboy the best.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

the bickering on this board is getting quite annoying, I rarely post in "the stadium" anymore as most of the threads seem rather senseless.

There are worse things to worry about, and I am thankful for what I have as well. Thanks for posting Blondie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...