Ron Springs: ‘I don’t know what more you can do in life than what Everson and Ron did together,’ said Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach at Springs’s funeral.
‘The Face Of Sacrifice’
November 4, 1956-May 12, 2011
It says everything about Ron Springs’s character that the reports of the 54-year-old former Dallas Cowboys star fullback’s death on May 12 focused less on his achievements on the playing field than on his advocacy of organ donation, and his educational and public service work on behalf of those suffering from diabetes and kidney disease, as he did.
Springs’s former Cowboys teammate Everson Walls, who donated one of his kidneys to Springs in 2007, told the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram: “He touched a lot of people. His impact was universal. He made a difference. It was like he was sacrificed for that. I have had people call and text me and say they donated organs because of what we went through. It's amazing to be able to leave that kind of legacy. What a mark he made on society as a whole. Forget sports. This is a real life situation and he was the face of that.
"He is the face of the sacrifice and the strength of people who deal with kidney disease and diabetes."
Diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic 16 years ago, Springs went on the national transplant waiting list in 2004. The disease led to the amputation of his right foot and the big and middle toes on his left foot, and caused his arms to wither and his hands to curl into knots. He also was forced into a wheelchair and needed dialysis three times a week.
Everson Walls (left) and Ron Springs being honored at the Cowboys’ 2007 home opener after Walls had donated a kidney to Springs. (Photo: Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Walls, who joined Springs on the Cowboys from 1981-1984, saved his friend and former teammate from his death sentence by donating a kidney in successful transplant surgery in February 2007, the first time a pro athlete had donated an organ to a teammate. In the aftermath of the transplant surgery, Walls and Springs found themselves in the national spotlight again. Springs and Walls established the Gift for Life Foundation to help spread awareness of kidney disease and diabetes and wrote a book about their journey. Walls, a 14-year veteran whose All-Pro career included stints with the Giants and the Cleveland Browns in addition to the Cowboys, testified in Washington before a House subcommittee to press for passage of an organ donation bill and a national registry. A documentary about Walls’s life centered on his decision to donate his kidney to Springs, and the two were honored in a special ceremony before the Cowboys’ 2007 home opener against the New York Giants.
"I got text from a woman who donated a kidney because of our story," Walls told reporters in confirming Springs's death. "There are a lot of people connected to this, sometimes you just don't realize it. Ron touched a lot of people's lives."
Ron Springs and Everson Walls discuss the Gift for Life Foundation
In 2005 Springs had declined an offer of a kidney donation by his son Shawn, who was then a cornerback with the Washington Redskins. He would not even agree to have his son tested for a possible match. Shawn Springs is now an NFL free agent who played last season with the New England Patriots.
"I think that was a tremendous gesture, and it just justifies the fact that he's a loving son," Ron Springs told the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora. "But I couldn't have let him do that, because I always prayed and wanted him to be a professional athlete."
Given his multiple afflictions, those close to Springs said he was doing well until he underwent surgery at Medical City Dallas hospital (where he died) in October 2007 to have a cyst removed from his forearm. During the procedure, Springs lost oxygen and fell into a coma. He never regained consciousness. The following year Springs’s wife, Adriane, filed a medical malpractice suit in state district court claiming gross negligence by the anesthesiologist and plastic surgeon at Medical City Dallas Hospital. The case is pending.
Mrs. Springs said her husband simply stopped breathing, but later reports said the cause of death was a heart attack. At the time of his death, Springs’s family had come to town to celebrate his daughter Ashley’s impending graduation from the University of North Texas.
Springs played six years with the Cowboys after being drafted in the fifth round out of Ohio State in 1979. Transferring from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas to Ohio State, Springs played three seasons (1976-78) for coach Woody Hayes, leading the Buckeyes in both rushing (1,166 yards) and receiving (16 catches for 90 yards) in 1977. In 1978, he was elected a team co-captain.
Springs was drafted by the Cowboys in 1979 and became a starter alongside Dorsett in '81, the year Walls arrived as an undrafted rookie from Grambling. Springs left in 1985, finishing his career with two seasons in Tampa Bay. Continuing in the Cowboys’ tradition of great running back-fullback tandems dating back to Don Perkins and Amos Marsh in 1961, Springs ran for 2,519 yards, had 2,259 yards receiving and scored 10 touchdowns in his NFL career. Quick and strong, he became a fan favorite for his steady play and punishing blocks that helped open daylight for Hall of Famer Dorsett’s swift, explosive bursts through and around the line on the Cowboys’ playoff teams from 1981 to 1983 (he led Dallas in touchdowns in 1981).
In the four seasons Springs and Walls played together in Dallas, the two forged a strong friendship. Springs is the godfather of Walls' oldest daughter, and Walls received the same honor for Springs' youngest child.
The official Gift for Life poster honoring Ron Springs and Everson Walls can be purchased at the Gift of Life website.
Springs is survived by his wife, Adriane; son, Shawn; and daughters Ayra and Ashley.
"[Adriane] never gave up hope," Walls said. "She wanted him to be in a better place and she wanted him to be in her arms. She was a spiritual person and knows he is in a better place now."
At his funeral on May 19, Springs was remembered both for his off-field heroics and his fun loving nature. “What a clown he was,” Walls said, “but he touched so many people’s lives.”
Along with Walls, former Cowboys teammates Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach and Doug Donley, who also played with Springs in college at Ohio State, spoke at the services.
“He had a great sense of humor and was a lot of fun,” Staubach said. “But I don’t know what more you can do in life than what Everson and Ron did together.”
Dorsett called him his brother from another mother who was always holding court, and Donley remembered him as a person who made everybody feel special from the starters to the backups, rookies and veterans included, going back to their days together at Ohio State.
“He was a consummate teammate," Donley said.