By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2007
Shawn Springs arrived at Redskins Park on Saturday morning, having spent much of the past week in a Dallas area hospital with his ailing father, Ron. The veteran cornerback met with assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams and said he'd like to participate in this weekend's game, and after some cursory tutorials about the Arizona Cardinals' offense, Williams decided to use Springs in limited situations.
Then starter Fred Smoot pulled his hamstring in the first half yesterday, and suddenly Springs was back to full-time duty in Washington's 21-19 win over the Cardinals.
"I laughed," Springs said of his unexpected playing time. "I told Smoot, I said 'Man you put me out there for about 60 snaps and I haven't even stretched. I've just been sitting in the hospital.' " Springs said this with a slight smile, and as he told coaches, teammates and media members, his profession has served as a welcome distraction in recent days.
"That's the beauty about football," he said. "You get three hours to just get away from your everyday life. You don't worry about too much. You just worry about being out there with a group of guys with one common goal, and that's win the game."
In fact, Springs said, last weekend's loss to the Green Bay Packers was a more difficult experience than yesterday's. His father, a former NFL running back, has struggled with diabetes for years and received a transplanted kidney from ex-Dallas Cowboys teammate Everson Walls last winter. The Tuesday before the Green Bay game, the elder Springs went in for what was expected to be a routine removal of a cyst on his arm. His arm still bothered him later in the week, so he was put under general anesthesia that Friday, but Springs said his father then suffered cardiac arrest, lost oxygen flow for more than a minute and slipped into a coma.
By the Saturday before the Green Bay game, Springs said, his stepmother, other family members and Redskins team physician Tony Casolaro had explained how serious his father's condition was. He said he was helped that weekend by facing Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who famously starred in a "Monday Night Football" win over the Oakland Raiders in December 2003, the day after his father passed away.
"I was just like, 'Man, if he can do it, maybe I can do it too,' " Springs said.
He also talked to teammates who had endured similar struggles, including Smoot, whose half-brother died in a car accident last year, and linebacker London Fletcher, whose mother died of a heart attack, also last year.
Springs returned to the Washington area in time to review practice film and cram for this weekend's game. Williams said coaches "gave him some limited tips and alerts," and after seeing the cornerback "doing things remarkably well," decided to use him in nickel and dime packages and on third downs. Springs also consulted with Smoot on Saturday night and yesterday morning, trying to get up to speed on the game plan.
"He literally didn't know it," Smoot said. "You don't let nobody miss a week of practice and then put him in; then he was forced to get in once I pulled up. I just tried my best every time he came to the sideline to tell him what we studied all week: 'If you see this, this is what they're gonna run.' And he did a great job, I've got to tip my hat to him. All of us have to play physically hurt, but to go through the mental stress he did and step up and play the way he did, I pull my hat off to him."
And Springs contributed to Washington's win, blocking a path during Fletcher's interception return for a touchdown and tackling wide receiver Anquan Boldin short of a first down on a fourth-down catch shortly before halftime.
"And all of a sudden, we saw that he was handling" the situation, Williams said. "He made some really key plays. I guess that would show you how important a veteran is, because there were things I couldn't get him up to speed on that he'd seen before and he was able to react. He played off of very good instincts."
Several teammates said they avoided discussing Springs's father's situation, which remains grave, preferring to allow Springs to enjoy his distraction. The 11-year veteran said he likely will remain in Washington for much of this week, depending on his father's condition, and Williams said he figured he'd again see the cornerback on the field next Sunday in New England.
"I know how my dad is," Springs said. "He would always say, 'You know what, don't worry about me.' "