The Aging Process

Shawn Springs
Shawn Springs and his father Ron still talk about what would happen if they had squared off on the football field. (Helayne Seidman - For The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 13, 2007


It is mid-April, in a restaurant in SoHo. The father is enveloped in the currents of memory, the son fortified by the illusion of invincibility afforded by youth, money and a sinewy frame. They are 18 years apart, but in this instant both are beautiful, simultaneously in their primes.

"If you ran to my side," Shawn Springs says, "I'd take you on, pick you up and throw you aside, just like a rag doll."

The father laughs the laugh teenagers use to put the neighborhood sprouts in their place.

"You keep on thinking that," Ron Springs says, proud of the holes his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame opened for Tony Dorsett during his own glory years of the 1970s and '80s. "There are guys who played in the NFL who never walked straight again after I ran into them."

Each dart exudes the can't-lose bravado of the professional athlete, but age stalks Shawn Springs. It nags at him professionally. Despite verbal assurances to the contrary from his bosses, Springs, 32, has spent the offseason uncertain whether the Washington Redskins still consider him an elite player, or if Coach Joe Gibbs believes time has claimed another victim and the team will move on without him. The result is a passive-aggressive dance between Springs and the Redskins that, to the consternation of Gibbs, saw him not appear for the first week of the team's voluntary workouts.

On the one hand, Springs has been bolstered by the Redskins' offseason moves. When the team drafted safety LaRon Landry with the sixth pick in the NFL draft, Springs sent out a cryptic text message to friends that read "3-5-9-6." The numbers denoted the draft order of the projected starting secondary: Springs was selected by the Seattle Seahawks with the third pick in 1997, Sean Taylor by the Redskins with the fifth in 2004, Carlos Rogers by the Redskins with the ninth in 2005 and now Landry.

"LaRon's going to be a good player," Springs said on draft day. "That's a hell of a move."

Yet despite feeling better about the Redskins now than he has in months, Springs says he will not arrive at Redskins Park until the first week of June.

And through the lens of his father, age talks to him personally. "Once you turn 32, they'll think you're finished. They treat you like a machine," Ron Springs said. "The way these guys train, they can play a long time, but the old mind-set remains. When you get hurt and they're paying you a lot of money, they don't like that. They depreciate you the way they do a machine."

At the Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, surrounded by the sleek and the swanky, Springs sits to the left of his father, who is only 50 years old but ravaged by diabetes. The talk may be big, but mortality is a concept very real to the Springs family. During lunch, Shawn Springs cares gently for his father, whose hands are curled into fists that cannot uncurl because of muscle fibrosis. Ron Springs drinks a glass of iced tea by balancing his glass between his forearm and chest, sipping through a straw.

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