By Mike Wise
Monday, September 29, 2008
The kid who used to spend Thanksgiving at Texas Stadium, to see his father run the ball for the home team, won this game as much as Jason Campbell Sunday afternoon. Shawn Springs's final game on the field that was once his playground was as sweet and memorable as any 8-year-old sprint toward the blue-and-silver painted end zone.
He bottled up and disrupted Terrell Owens, his opponent and friend, in the first half, setting a tone for a defense that had to keep the fuel-injected Cowboys out of the end zone for Campbell and Clinton Portis to have a shot at the end.
"Reminds me of my childhood and of my relationship with my father," Springs said after the Redskins walked off the field in the regular season victors against the Cowboys for the final time at Texas Stadium.
Interrupting an interview after the game, he pulled Jim Zorn aside.
"Coach Z, could I have a minute?" Springs said.
Springs proceeded to ask Zorn if it was okay to visit his father, former Cowboys running back Ron Springs, in the hospital, instead of returning immediately with the team. Since Oct. 12, Ron Springs has been on life support after cardiac arrest and stopped breathing for more than three minutes during a procedure to remove a cyst from his arm.
Zorn was fine with Springs attending to such a personal matter, adding later: "I knew his father was gravelly ill, but I didn't know he was still in a coma. Man, that's a lot to deal with for anyone."
Indeed, and yet it hasn't prevented him from doing his job incredibly well. Springs and London Fletcher and Chris Horton, that Right Time Right Place Rookie who keeps finding the ball in his hands, contained one of the most lethal offensive units in the league.
Randy White was on local-yokel television here in Dallas during a pregame show Sunday morning. He was asked, in a very serious tone, whether the Cowboys' old Doomsday defense, led by White and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, could have stopped the Romo-and-T.O. show -- this beautifully orchestrated, multi-threat offense Jason Garrett transmits weekly from his offensive coordinator headset to Romo's ear.
This early coronation of the Cowboys needs to stop for a minute or two. Never mind Doomsday; in Week 4 Romo and Dallas couldn't even get past Greg Blache's feared Cut-and-Paste Secondary.
The Cowboys are a great, eye-candy team as long as someone isn't lodging their right shoulder into Romo's abdomen or clinging to T.O. or Jason Witten like annoying gnats. Dallas puts up nice Fantasy League points, but in the Cowboys' defining moment a year ago, a nasty Giants defense knocked them down and out.
Before Dallas's desperate score in the final minute with Washington playing an almost prevent defense and ensuring the clock ran down on a team with no timeouts, Blache's defense had yet to give up a single point in the fourth quarter of four games.
Seeing the Redskins shut down a Dallas ground game after getting run over at times a year ago, that might be as impressive a statistic as the offense not turning the ball over in four games.
And as much as this was about Washington's ability to fill in the gaps and survive and thrive as a team, seeing Springs come off the field triumphantly was as good an image as anyone could have imagined.
A team employee ran into Springs on Friday at about 4:30 p.m., a time when many players do the family thing or go out with friends, and asked why he had yet to leave the park.
"Film," the 33-year-old cornerback said, saying 80 percent of his job now involves breaking down what happened when he lined up against a certain receiver a year ago.
It's been talked about ad nauseum this past week the last time Springs and his team lined up against Owens at Texas Stadium. T.O. had an unheard-of two-to-one catch-to-touchdown ratio -- ending up in the end zone 50 percent of the time he caught the ball. Eight catches. Four touchdowns.
"I just saw he ran through the zone a bunch of times to beat us," Springs said. "We couldn't let that happen."
This time? "They were really congesting the middle," Owens said. "Played a lot of bump-and-runs, safety over the top. A lot of that stuff just takes Tony off the read in my routes. Most of the time I was getting in my routes. Coming out of them, the ball was already going in another direction."
When a calf strain sidelined Springs in the second half and Fred Smoot was in wonderland after his losing his helmet and his senses during a tackle, Leigh Torrence and Chris Horton jumped into the fray. Carlos Rogers shadowed Owens on three straight Romo incompletions, two of which straddled the pass-interference line but never crossed it.
"Safeties had to play like nickel backs this week," Zorn said afterward, lauding his coaching staff.
"It's not a testament to anything I did, it's a testament to the players committed to executing it," Blache said.
Springs and Owens are friends who go way back as competitors. It was Springs, of course, whom Owens beat on "Monday Night Football" when he unsheathed his sock and removed a Sharpie pen, signed the football and gave it to a financial adviser who shared Springs and Owens as clients.
"I think I know him better than any other receiver in the game," Springs said.
He had his number today the way the Redskins had the Cowboys' number in their final regular season visit to the football field with no roof, where a kid once ran the field after his father's games.
"I'm going to see him now," Shawn Springs said, shuffling slowly out of the locker room. A few people close by nodded and wished him well on his last day at Texas Stadium.