Ex-Cow­boy Walls to give old team­mate Springs a kid­ney

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

PLANO, Texas (AP) — Hav­ing grown up in Dal­las, Everson Walls thought he knew his way around town. Then he started play­ing for the Cow­boys, and a third-year run­ning back who grew up in Vir­ginia showed him how it was re­ally done.

Ron Springs taught the rookie cor­ner­back where to go for free this and dis­count that. In re­turn, Walls did the driv­ing and, bet­ter yet, in­tro­duced Springs to a ter­rific, cheap late-night food joint — his mom’s kitchen.

Kin­dred spir­its only a few years apart, they quickly built a friend­ship that went way be­yond be­ing team­mates. It was so much like big brother and lit­tle brother that Springs be­came a reg­u­lar at Walls fam­ily gath­er­ings.

By the time Springs left the Cow­boys in 1985, their wives al­ready were good friends. Even­tu­ally, so were their kids. Ev­ery­one gets along so well that they have taken fam­ily va­ca­tions to­gether, such as the time all eight piled into one Land Cruiser and drove from Dal­las to Or­lando through a rain­storm so blind­ing they missed their des­ti­na­tion.

Springs is the god­fa­ther of Walls’ old­est daugh­ter, and Walls re­ceived the same honor for Springs’ youngest. And liv­ing up to the old say­ing that “your fam­ily is my fam­ily,” Springs re­cently spoke at the funeral of Walls’ fa­ther-in­law.

That’s close, right? Well they’re about to get a lot closer: Walls has agreed to do­nate a kid­ney to help Springs, a di­a­betic, re­gain the qual­ity of life he has lacked for nearly three years.

The dis­ease al­ready has forced the am­pu­ta­tion of his right foot and the big and mid­dle toes on his left foot. His rot­ting kid­ney has knot­ted his hands, bound him to a wheel­chair and forced him to get up at 5 a.m. three times a week to en­dure sev­eral hours of dial­y­sis treat­ments.

Walls’ kid­ney is ex­pected to be trans­planted in March. Once the healthy one takes over, Springs can look for­ward to his hands un­curl­ing, ditch­ing his wheel­chair and never go­ing to dial­y­sis again.

“This man has got to love me in or­der to give up some­thing. He’s tak­ing some risk,” Springs says. “It’s some­thing you can’t ex­plain, but some­thing that I will al­ways think about ev­ery day for the rest of my life. It’s like get­ting a new bat­tery in a car. I’ll be able to be back to ba­si­cally al­most 100 per­cent nor­mal.”

“A piece of me is go­ing to be inside him and hope­fully giv­ing him a lot more life than he would’ve had oth­er­wise,” Walls says. “To me, friend­ship is un­con­di­tional.”

Springs grew up in Wil­liams­burg, a short drive from sev­eral black col­leges where friends and rel­a­tives played foot­ball. He fol­lowed the teams closely but picked Ohio State for him­self.

Adept at run­ning, re­ceiv­ing and block­ing, the Cow­boys drafted him in the fifth round in 1979, a few months af­ter Tom Landry and Roger Staubach won their sec­ond Su­per Bowl.

Springs be­came a starter in the same back­field as Tony Dorsett in his third sea­son. At train­ing camp that same year, he got to know Walls, an un­drafted rookie from Gram­bling, and his room­mate, an­other black-col­lege alum.

“Ron would al­ways come over and give us a bunch of [trash] about black col­leges be­ing from the Ne­gro Leagues,” Walls says. “That’s how we started jok­ing around and he started hang­ing out with us.”

Dur­ing the sea­son, they be­came reg­u­lars at each other’s houses. Springs was mar­ried with no kids; Walls was liv­ing with his mom and dat­ing his fu­ture wife.

“You kind of hung with the peo­ple who did what you did,” Springs says. “We were pro­fes­sional beer drinkers and mar­garita drinkers and craw­fish eaters.”

Off­sea­sons were spent tour­ing the state and the coun­try to­gether with a bas­ket­ball team called the Dal­las Hoopsters, which was re­ally just a group of Cow­boys paid to play at fund-rais­ers. Springs later took over or­ga­niz­ing the shows.

In the sum­mer of 1983, Springs or­ga­nized a dif­fer­ent kind of fundraiser. The ben­e­fi­ciary was Walls, grossly un­der­paid for some­one who’d led the league in in­ter­cep- tions and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two sea­sons. (Walls had 11 in­ter­cep­tions in 1981; no­body has had more than 10 since. Alas, he also was the cor­ner­back who dove in vain when Dwight Clark made “The Catch” to send San Fran­cisco past Dal­las and into the Su­per Bowl in the 1981 NFC Cham­pi­onship game.)

As a locker-room lawyer and the de facto leader of the “Ghetto Row” clique, Springs talked Walls into telling team of­fi­cials he was “men­tally frus­trated” and had to re­tire, a word cho­sen to avoid be­ing fined for hold­ing out. He in­structed Walls to go into hid­ing, ex­cept for once-aday calls to Springs. Walls resur­faced to sign a con­tract that paid about four times what he was sup­posed to make with a hefty sign­ing bonus.

“The guys fig­ured out that me and him had con­cocted this,” Springs says. “But he got a nice new con­tract and we cel­e­brated pretty good.”

Springs went to Tampa Bay for two sea­sons, then re­tired. Walls lasted with the Cow­boys through Jimmy John­son’s dis­as­trous first sea­son, then joined the New York Gi­ants in 1990, the year Bill Par- cells guided them to their sec­ond Su­per Bowl ti­tle.

The week of the big game, Walls and line­backer Lawrence Tay­lor — who played Lit­tle League and high school ball with Springs in Wil­liams­burg — spent hours try­ing to per­suade Springs to join them in Tampa. Once he gave in, Springs drove all night, de­spite feel­ing the ef­fects of a flu bug that wound up keep­ing him in his ho­tel room on game day.

“I was happy to see one of us fi­nally win a Su­per Bowl,” Springs says.

Af­ter giv­ing up foot­ball, Springs stayed in good shape by play­ing bas­ket­ball a lot. But he was get­ting tired eas­ily, which didn’t make sense.

A checkup re­vealed he had Type 2 di­a­betes, the most com­mon kind. He was 34.

“I just kept work­ing out and deny­ing it for a while,” he says. “Then, all of a sud­den, it was at­tack­ing me worse than it did most peo­ple.”

In 2004, at age 47, Springs went on dial­y­sis and was added to the na­tional trans­plant wait­ing list. The fol­low­ing year, he lost his foot, then be­gan feel­ing the mus­cles ball up on his right arm, then the left.

Given his age, over­all health and de­gen­er­at­ing con­di­tion, he was told it would take about four years for his num­ber to come up — un­less he could find a donor on his own.

Springs im­me­di­ately ruled out his chil­dren, in­clud­ing his old­est son, Shawn, a cor­ner­back (Walls’ po­si­tion) who had starred at his dad’s alma mater and now plays for the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins. Springs also has a 21-year-old daugh­ter, Ayra, soon to grad­u­ate Oklahoma State and Ash­ley, a high school se­nior.

Be­cause di­a­betes is hered­i­tary, he wor­ries they even­tu­ally will be af­flicted. He couldn’t bear the thought of tak­ing a kid­ney they may end up need­ing ei­ther for them­selves or to do­nate to their kids should one of them be stricken.

Plenty of friends and rel­a­tives of­fered to be tested, but be­ing a donor in­volves far more than wantto. Re­quire­ments start with be­ing in good health, good shape and, in Springs’ case, hav­ing type-O blood.

Springs only let two peo­ple try, a niece and a nephew. Both were per­fect matches un­til she got preg­nant and his kid­ney turned out not to be strong enough.

“In­stead of be­ing down on him­self af­ter two failed at­tempts, he wanted to just stay ac­tive to keep his mind and body strong so we started work­ing out to­gether,” Walls says. “As we started work­ing out to­gether, I said, ‘Well, look, I know my blood type is the same as his. Why not give it a shot and see what hap­pens?’ ”

“I never tried to in­flu­ence him,” Springs says. “If he was go­ing to do it, I wanted him to do it out of the love he had for me.”

Springs warned Walls of all the painful, time-con­sum­ing tests and pa­per­work ahead of him. He also prepped him for a 500-ques­tion psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion.

“That’s the one I thought he’d fail,” Springs says, cack­ling.

The ca­ma­raderie among the for­mer team­mates is ev­i­dent from the time Walls lifts Springs from his wheel­chair and threat­ens to drop him onto the sofa. Through­out a 1 1/2-hour in­ter­view, there are ar­gu­ments over who had var­i­ous ideas first (score it 1-1) and sev­eral in­stances of fin­ish­ing each other’s sen­tences.

More of­ten, though, they build on what the other is say­ing, such as on the topic of the greater good their story will serve.

“What we want to par­lay from this is the abil­ity for more peo­ple to do­nate,” Springs says. “That’s the key.”

“When some­thing hap­pens with ath­letes, its al­ways brings the most recog­ni­tion to a cer­tain is­sue,” Walls adds.

Only two other pro­fes­sional ath­letes are known to have do­nated a kid­ney: Greg Ostertag, who was play­ing for the Utah Jazz when he did it for his sis­ter; and NBA Hall of Famer Os­car Robert­son, who did so for his daugh­ter.

“Ev­ery­where I go, peo­ple are call­ing me a hero,” Walls says. “Some peo­ple are think­ing it’s al­ready hap­pened. I just tell them to keep us in their prayers.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

For­mer Dal­las Cow­boy Everson Walls: “Hope­fully [it will give Ron Springs] a lot more life than he would’ve had oth­er­wise. To me, friend­ship is un­con­di­tional.”

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