The Ties That Bind a Father and Son

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007; Page D01

When Shawn Springs walks into the locker room at Texas Stadium, he is 7 years old again, scampering around his idols, tossing around a football with the sons of other players. It is Thanksgiving, and Springs has made the annual holiday trip to Dallas to be with his father, Ron, a gregarious Dallas running back on a powerhouse team. He will eat a late turkey dinner after the game and sleep in his Cowboys pajamas at night. When Springs returns to the stadium today as a member of the Washington Redskins, those childhood memories will be tinged by painful realities: That his father will be lying in a hospital 15 minutes away in a coma. That doctors there are saying he is essentially brain dead. That someday soon the Springs family might turn off the machines that are keeping him alive.

"My dad's in a situation where you're faced with a tough choice, and you pray for a miracle that God's able to heal him," Springs said. "Then at the same time you've got to be realistic and say, 'What if that doesn't happen? Are we willing to come look at dad every day and say he's a vegetable, or do you say maybe it's time for us to make another decision?'

shawn springs - washington redskins
"My dad's in a situation where you're faced with a tough choice, and you pray for a miracle that God's able to heal him," says Shawn Springs of his father, Ron, right. (Helayne Seidman - For The Post)

"And that might be taking him off the feeding tube, but no one wants to feel responsible for that, or feel like they are killing somebody, and that's a tough decision, because you can't really win. The right thing to do, maybe it's that he wouldn't want to live like this, then you think about my stepmom, and she thinks about it like, 'If you did that then you would feel like you're giving up on him.' "

On Oct. 12, Ron Springs, 51, went to Medical City Dallas Hospital for the removal of a cyst from his arm. Even after suffering from severe diabetes, having a foot and toes amputated years ago and undergoing a life-saving kidney transplant in March, the removal of a cyst was supposed to be routine. But during the procedure Ron Springs suffered cardiac arrest, experienced severe seizures and stopped breathing for at least three minutes, Shawn said. He has been on life support since.

If it were his choice alone, Springs says he would let his father pass, believing that's what his father would want. But he understands that the issue is not as clear for his stepmother, Adriane, who has been married to Ron for 26 years, and his sisters, Ayra, 21, and Ashley, 17. There is no standard cadence to acceptance, no defining pace to grieving, and so the family continues to convene at the hospital, with Shawn shuttling back and forth to Dallas every other week, keeping vigil, talking to Ron, praying for a recovery, and weighing cruel medical eventualities.

Family Reunion

The phone line pulsed with anticipation from Dallas to McLean on Oct. 11. Shawn and Ron Springs were planning to finally get together again, with Shawn having been busy playing cornerback and Ron having been tied up with meetings and travel for his foundation to combat kidney disease and diabetes.

Ron Springs had not seen his son play in 2007, but hoped to fly to Washington for the Oct. 21 game against Arizona, one stop on an odyssey merging his two great loves, family and football. The itinerary included Ohio State's homecoming game Oct. 20 -- Ron Springs was among the former Buckeyes team captains being honored that day -- and while in Columbus he would also watch Shawn's twin 9-year-old sons, Samari and Skyler, who live in Ohio, play football for the first time.

They laughed and joked as they planned into November, all the way to today's game in Dallas. Ron was to join former teammates Tony Dorsett and Everson Walls -- the man who gave Springs his kidney -- at Texas Stadium, for the Redskins' last game there before the Cowboys move to a new stadium.

"He was so excited about everything coming up," Shawn Springs said, reclining in his basement theater at his home in McLean last week after spending two hours studying Dallas game film. "He was about to make his tour and he was going to catch my game and go to Ohio State and see my little boys play -- he was so excited about finally seeing them play. We were talking about it on that Thursday night, and he had just signed a deal with Albertsons [a large grocery chain] for his foundation and was excited about that too. He was feeling good, really happy and everything like that."

Shawn, 32, halfheartedly cajoled his father about flying to Green Bay to see the Redskins play the Packers on Oct. 14, already knowing the response.

"First thing he said was, 'Hell no, I ain't going, ain't nothing up there in Green Bay," Springs said, mimicking his father's old-school drawl. "You tried to get me up there when ya'll played there in the playoffs with Seattle."

Then Roncasually mentioned a minor surgical procedure he was going to have the following morning.

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