Shawn Springs blew into town with the confidence of a player who already had been to multiple Pro Bowls and the unabashed backing of a coach who came away from his impressive Pro Day workout with an edict.
Then-coach Dennis Erickson told then-VP of football operations Randy Mueller that he didn’t care what it took to make it happen, but he wanted the ridiculously talented cornerback from Ohio State. Mueller made it happen, using a first-round draft choice that was obtained in trade with the Chicago Bears (for quarterback Rick Mirer) to move into the third spot in the 1997 NFL Draft.
So Springs became a Seahawk – the mega-come-loudly of a draft class that also included soft-spoken left tackle Walter Jones – and things never were quite the same again. Or quiet, for that matter. The only thing flashier than Springs’ seemingly ever-present smile was his bling-bling, the only thing more luminous than the diamond-stud earrings in his lobes his personality.
Springs played a good game, and talked an even better one.
“I talk like I want to be the best, because in my heart I really do,” is the way Springs always put it.
And he wasn’t alone in that assessment.
“When Springs is healthy, he is one of the premier cornerbacks in the league,” Ray Rhodes, the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator from 2003-05, once said. “He can do it all.”
|BLUE AND GREEN DREAM TEAM|
The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
So it’s not surprising that when the readers of Seahawks.com voted for the franchise’s 35th Anniversary team, Springs was one of the cornerbacks – actually the nickel back, as he finished third in the balloting (969 votes) behind the late Dave Brown (2,182) and Marcus Trufant (1,767).
As with the voting at wide receiver, where three players also were included, the order of finish matched the needed parts. While Brown started at right cornerback from 1977-86, Trufant has been the starting left corner since 2007, after starting on the right side for two seasons. Springs, meanwhile, did some of his best work covering slot receivers as the nickel back. With the receivers, there’s Steve Largent at flanker, Brian Blades at split end and Bobby Engram as the slot receiver – again, the roles they filled during their careers.
Engram jokingly anticipated that slot vs. nickel situation, offering, “I could take Springs. That’s a good matchup.” He then laughed.
Just the mention of Springs seems to have that affect on people. In addition to being a quality player, he also was – and remains – quite the character.
“The best they could do was nickel back?” Springs said this week, when he was in Seattle to meet with his financial advisor. “Tru made it only because he’s been out there longer.”
Springs then laughed before adding, “Nah. I’m just messing with Tru. He’s my boy. He belongs on there.”
So does Springs, who started 88 games from 1997-2003 – including 16-start seasons from 1998-2000, when he averaged 81 tackles and almost five interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in ’98. He led the team in interceptions twice (1998, with a career-high seven; and 1999). He is tied for fifth on the club’s all-time list in interceptions (20) and scoring returns (two).
But Springs could have – and should have – made even more plays. Just ask him.
“There were about five years there where I would cry after games because I didn’t get the ball,” he said. “No one threw at me. No one threw at me for weeks. I’d be over there just chillin’ like, ‘Can I just get one ball thrown my way.’ ”
Springs’ natural ability also worked against him at times. It started with his genes, as his father was former Dallas Cowboys running back Ron Springs, who died last month after a long illness. The younger Springs started going to football camps when he was 8, and hanging out in the Cowboys’ locker room even before that.
“I tell people all the time, if your dad is an auto mechanic, I think you’re going to know something about cars,” Shawn once said.
But Springs’ spring-loaded athletic ability was undeniable, starting with that Pro Day workout that hooked Erickson.
“His God-given gifts, his natural ability at times hinder him because he’s not the technician he could be,” Mike Holmgren said after coaching Springs for three seasons. “He does so much on natural ability. But when he focuses in on what he can do, he’s really good. I mean really good.”
Which Springs was in the 1999 game at Green Bay, a “Monday Night Football” matchup with Holmgren’s former team (the Packers) and quarterback (Brett Favre) in his first season as coach of the Seahawks. Springs intercepted the future Hall of Fame QB twice – once in the end zone – and also returned a blocked field 61 yards for a touchdown as the Seahawks won in a romp, 27-7.
Asked what he liked about Springs’ game, Engram offered, “Strong. Long arms. Good feet. He’s smart, a student of the game. He could make it tough on you. You had to come to work and make your plays.”
Springs left the Seahawks after the 2003 season, signing with the Washington Redskins on the first day of the free-agency period in 2004. After five seasons with the Redskins, he played for the New England Patriots in 2009. In a 2008 game at Qwest Field, Springs intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass at the Seahawks’ 44-yard line with 80 seconds left to ice the Redskins’ 20-17 victory.
Springs’ tenure with the Seahawks bridged what never quiet was and what was to come. He played his first two seasons under Erickson, when the team finished 8-8 twice. He played the next five under Holmgren, when the Seahawks won the AFC West title in 1999 before going 6-10, 9-7, 7-9 and, finally, 10-6.
“We had some good players,” said Springs, running through a list that included fellow 35th Anniversary team members Cortez Kennedy, Michael Sinclair, Chad Brown, Howard Ballard, Mack Strong, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson, Jones and Trufant; as well as Warren Moon, Sam Adams, Willie Williams, Chris Warren and Darryl Williams.
“But what I remember most is running out the tunnel at the Kingdome for the first time and just seeing that structure. The ceiling was so high and it was just all this concrete. Just being inside there got you ready for war. That was great.”
So was his relationship with Holmgren. It was Springs who dubbed the new coach “Big Show” in his first season. It was Holmgren who labeled Springs the most-athletically talented player he ever coached after his final season with the Seahawks in 2008.
“I also remember how competitive we were at practice when coach Holmgren got there,” Springs said. “I learned so much. The way he taught us in OTAs and the way we got after each other in practice, I knew at some point we were going to win.”
What’s Springs up to these days? He lives in the Washington, D.C., area and is involved in some business dealings. His twin sons, Samari and Skyler, are 12.
“I’m just trying to stay out of people’s way,” he said.