Shawn Springs grew up in Silver Spring, where virtually all his friends were rabid fans of the Washington Redskins. But his father, Ron, was a Dallas Cowboys running back for six years. The Springs household was decorated with Cowboys paraphernalia, and Ron tutored his son about the Cowboys' rich history. So Shawn Springs -- who starred in football and track at Springbrook High -- was raised an avid Cowboys fan.
"You don't have any choice if your dad plays for the Cowboys," Springs said, laughing. "So you have Cowboys stuff all over your bedroom.
"It was a sin in my household to be a Redskins fan."
Springs remained a Cowboys fan at Ohio State and even after he was drafted third overall by Seattle in 1997. The longtime Washingtonian -- who also lived in Dallas and Ohio -- remained an anomaly among childhood friends until the 2004 season when he signed with the Redskins following seven seasons with the Seahawks.
After receiving the first installment of his $10 million signing bonus, Springs changed allegiances. " 'Hail to the Redskins.' Yeah," recalled Springs, who was born in Williamsburg, where his father starred in high school. "I became a Redskins fan."
Tomorrow night at Texas Stadium, Springs will try to help defeat his father's old team and his former favorite team, which has won nine straight at home.
Last season in Dallas, the Cowboys won, 13-10, although Springs had an interception, two sacks and six tackles. (Wideout Patrick Crayton scored a touchdown with 30 seconds left after being initially defended by Springs. But after Springs released Crayton, safety Sean Taylor botched the assignment by double-teaming Keyshawn Johnson.)
Ron Springs, 49, will attend the game despite medical ailments. Last March, Springs's leg was amputated because of an infection. He also has diabetes and is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
During the offseasons, Shawn Springs travels to Dallas to spend time with his father, who requires dialysis three times per week. "It's tough," Springs said.
Coach Joe Gibbs added, "We've been praying with Shawn."
Because of his familial ties, Ron Springs plans to don a Redskins cap with a Cowboys shirt tomorrow. "Whoever wins, after the game, he takes the other one off," Shawn Springs said.
Regardless of the outcome, Ron Springs will cheer for his son to play well.
Last season, Springs was a key member of Washington's third-ranked defense, producing one of the best seasons of his career: Springs collected a team-high five interceptions and was tied with defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin with a team-high six sacks. Springs became the first cornerback in NFL history with team highs in sacks and interceptions.
Now, the cocksure cornerback -- who seamlessly replaced Champ Bailey after the 2003 season -- vows that he will produce an even better season.
Last offseason, Springs suffered a bone bruise that caused him to miss Gibbs's first minicamp in April. Springs, 30, feels terrific after an offseason free of ailments. And Springs is more familiar with Gregg Williams's system, which demands extra responsibility from his cornerbacks.
"I didn't get coaching in Seattle like I did this year," Springs said, crediting Williams and assistant DeWayne Walker, "except for my first two years."
Ron Springs played with the Cowboys from 1979 to 1984. So although Shawn Springs is in only his second season with the Redskins, he has plenty of personal experience with the rivalry.
"He kicked our rear a few times," Gibbs recalled of Ron Springs.
As the son of Ron Springs, Shawn held the privileges of being on the sideline for preseason games, being in the locker rooms regularly, even attending meetings. Springs grew up in the D.C. area, but spent the summers and offseasons in Dallas.
"In the locker room, they would tell me, 'Go get me a jock strap in the back room' or something," Springs said. "So I would go over to the Cowboys complex. Bill Bates would say, 'Shawn, go get me a Gatorade.' "
Springs said he didn't face pressure following in his father's footsteps until he attended Ohio State, where his father had been team captain. But Springs -- a two-time all-Big Ten selection -- flourished in college enough to declare for the NFL after his junior season. It took only his second NFL season before he made the Pro Bowl (after the 1998 season), a goal Ron Springs is particularly proud of since the father never made it during his NFL career.
Cornerback is the most critical position in Williams's defense because of his proclivity to blitz. And Springs is a versatile cornerback who can cover, tackle and pressure the quarterback.
Despite the significance of tomorrow's game -- and Springs's Dallas links -- Walker hasn't noticed his cornerback acting differently in preparation this week.
"Shawn acts like every game is a Redskins-Cowboys game," Walker said.