Stephen Bowen has been looking forward to this week for a while.
The Washington Redskins defensive end will travel to Dallas this weekend to take on his former team on “Monday Night Football,” but that’s not what has Bowen so happy this week.
On Friday, his son, Stephen Bowen III, finally should be released from the hospital. The infant was born four months prematurely and has spent the first three months of his life under close watch and 24-hour care.
“It’ll be a big day,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s wife, Tiffany, gave birth to twins in June. Skyler and Stephen III were born at only 24 weeks. Skyler lived for only 10 days. Stephen III weighed only two pounds when his father had to report to training camp.
On Wednesday morning, Tiffany texted Bowen a report from the hospital: Stephen III now weighs 6 pounds, 5 ounces.
“He’s a totally different baby,” Bowen said. “I was proud of him.”
Bowen’s entire tenure with the Redskins has been a juggling act of sorts. Joining a new team is never easy, but Bowen was living apart from his family the first several weeks. They finally moved to the Washington area from Dallas earlier this month, and Stephen III was admitted to a Loudoun County hospital where he received around-the-clock care. News that Stephen III will be going home soon is a relief for Bowen, who has spent his days at Redskins Park and every bit of free time at the hospital these past couple of weeks.
“Just trying to be familiar with him, him familiar with me,” Bowen said. “Just seeing him fighting — it was a long road for him.”
While the couple will receive some in-home care to help with the transition, Bowen says it soon will be easier to report to work without worrying about what’s happening at the hospital. Coaches were aware of Bowen’s family situation but say he never made it an issue or allowed it to interfere with his football responsibilities.
“You’re talking about somebody who’s mentally tough,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s so tight with his family, cares so much about his family. For him to be able to do what he’s done is just amazing.”
After spending five years with the Cowboys,Bowen signed a free agent contract with the Redskins in July. Not only was Washington offering $12.5 million guaranteed, the Redskins also wanted to make Bowen a starting, every-down defensive end. He’d only started with the Cowboys midway through last season when injuries forced him into the lineup.
Playing alongside new nose tackle Barry Cofield, Bowen has made a quick impact on the team’s revamped defensive line. Ranked 31st in the league a season ago, the Redskins defense is No. 11 in total yards allowed through two games this season. Only five teams have allowed fewer points so far.
Coaches are quick to point out the unit’s success starts up front, where Bowen and his linemates are charged with stopping the run, generating pressure on pass plays and opening up lanes for blitzing linebackers. In the team’s Week 1 win over the New York Giants, Bowen had one of the team’s four sacks. In Week 2, he helped create holes that allowed three linebackers to sack Arizona’s Kevin Kolb.
“He’s what we were hoping for,” Shanahan said.
Because Bowen came from a division rival, his addition to the Washington line has the added benefit of weakening an opponent.
“I wish he was still here,” said Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. “He’s a great friend of mine. We’ve been through a lot. And now we’re on rival teams.”
Shanahan stresses that he pursued Bowen because he admired his character, not just his football skills, attributes Dallas Coach Jason Garrett knows well.
“Just knowing the kind of person he is, the kind of player he is, he makes them better,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys made a strong bid to keep Bowen in Dallas, but they couldn’t match the Redskins’ offer.
“We understand the nature of the NFL,” Garrett said. “Unfortunately, when you have players that people around the league like, it’s hard to keep them all. Stephen Bowen’s certainly one of those guys.”
On Monday, Bowen will be coming out of the visiting team locker room at Cowboys Stadium for the first time. He played down the rivalry a bit, though, saying it’s simply important for the Redskins to pick up a second division win.
“It’ll be different, but we got one goal, that’s to come out with the win,” Bowen said. “I’m real excited to get down there and prove a point.”
Bowen said he has no problem sharing any information he can with his Redskins teammates and coaches. He’s plenty familiar and still friendly with several Dallas playmakers, including Ware, defensive end Jason Hatcher and running back Tashard Choice.
“This is a competition,” he said. “I’m doing whatever it takes to win.”
The Redskins will board a plane Sunday, which means Bowen has a couple of days to get used to a new family member around the house. The Bowens’ 23-month-old daughter, Trinity, is eager to be a big sister. The couple is eager to hold their boy in their own home. The baby’s nursery needs some new paint, Bowen said, but otherwise is ready to go.
“We’re definitely ready,” Bowen said. “We’ve been planning on this for a while now, so we’re just grateful it’s finally here.”