Whenever a Lafayette High team needed money for new uniforms, Mel Jones called Ron Springs. If the track squad needed travel funds for the Penn Relays, Jones called Springs.
“The check was always there the next day,” Jones said Friday morning. “He gave back. He had a big heart.”
Even when adult-onset diabetes forced doctors to amputate his right foot. Even as he waited for the donor kidney that would come from a former Dallas Cowboys teammate.
“He still had that spirit,” said Jones, a Lafayette track and football coach since the school opened in 1973. “The reason he lived as long as he did was the same reason he (was great) on the field: the will to win. He loved life.”
Springs died Thursday in a Dallas hospital at age 54. A Williamsburg native and 1975 Lafayette graduate, he had been comatose since October 2007, when surgery to remove a cyst from his arm went terribly wrong.
"I've been missing him these last 3 1/2 years," said Roscoe Springs, Ron's older brother, "and the finality of it all, it's just hard. ... It really hurts my heart to know it's over.
"Sometimes I get very mad at the way he left this life. He survived having his foot amputated and the kidney transplant, and then the simplest of things caused him the predicament he was in."
Roscoe said he and his mother, Ethelyn, traveled from Williamsburg to Ron's bedside four or five times. But Ethelyn suffers from Alzheimer's and could not understand her younger son's plight.
"She'd cry and grieve," Roscoe said. "Twenty minutes later she wouldn't remember."
Springs ranks among the finest football players the area has known. He rushed for a then-Peninsula District record 1,876 yards in 1974 and for 1,166 at Ohio State in 1977.
"He did everything," then-Lafayette coach Mike Bucci said. "He was a great guy."
“Woody Hayes himself came to Lafayette five times,” Jones said, referring to Ohio State’s Hall of Fame football coach. “You think he wanted Ron?”
Springs played eight NFL seasons, six for Tom Landry and the Cowboys, two for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the company of iconic coaches, teammates and opponents never made him forget his roots.
"He really loved the Hampton Roads area," said Bethel High graduate Carl Francis, the NFL Players Association spokesman who runs a free summer football camp for Peninsula youth. "He participated in the first (camp) and every one thereafter until his health started to fail him."
"He was always ready to help anyone," Roscoe Springs said, "to welcome anyone into his home."
In October 2003, Springs returned to Lafayette when the school made him and fellow NFL alums Lawrence Taylor and Mel Gray part of the school’s first Hall of Fame class. In typical fashion, Springs stole the show by riding a motorcycle onto the field when he was introduced.
“I can still see it,” Rams athletic director Dan Barner said with a laugh. “It was a unique entrance.”
Springs seemed genuinely touched by the honor.
“I've had a lot of awards,” he told Daily Press correspondent George Watson that evening. “But nothing is better than being loved and respected by the people who saw you grow up.”
No one loved Springs more than Jones. Springs was in elementary school when his father passed, and Jones became a mentor and friend.
As good a story-teller as coach, Jones can weave many a yarn about Springs.
He said that at the 1974 Penn Relays — Springs ran the 100 and 200 in track — an attractive young woman entered the hotel elevator.
“Do you know the great Ron Springs?” Jones bellowed.
“No,” she said.
“Are you sure?” Jones said.
After the woman exited, Springs asked Jones why he had embarrassed him. To teach humility, Jones told him.
“He said, ‘Coach, before it all ends, the whole world will know me,’” Jones recalled.
Then there was the time Springs arrived late for football practice, and Jones told him to run laps around the track. Jones swears he forgot about Springs and nearly two hours later found him still running.
“He beat me to practice every day after that,” Jones said. “They talk about a lot of running backs around here. But he had something the others didn’t. He could really catch that ball. That’s why he ended up in the pros. Plus, he had that track speed.”
Indeed, one of Springs’ most memorable plays at Lafayette was his 23-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown reception that gave the Rams a 14-7 victory over Highland Springs in the 1973 state semifinals at William and Mary’s sold-out Cary Field.
But Springs’ greatest notoriety came in early 2007 when former Dallas teammate Everson Walls donated a kidney to him. The gesture inspired Missouri Rep. William Clay to introduce legislation before Congress calling for a national registry for organ and tissue donors.
Clay called the bill the Everson Walls and Ron Springs Gift for Life Act of 2007. Walls testified before a subcommittee, but the proposal never went before the full House.
The day after the transplant, Dallas Morning News reporter Barry Horn observed Walls as he walked gingerly into Springs' cubicle in the intensive-care unit.
“What's up, bro?” Springs said to Walls. “I can really call you that now and mean it. What you did for me is something a brother does, a brother who loves a brother. We really are part of each other now.”
Six months later, prior to their season-opener, the Cowboys introduced Springs and Walls as their honorary captains. The two strolled together to midfield, each wearing his Cowboys jersey.
Springs returned to the hospital the following month to have a cyst removed from his arm. He never awakened from the anesthesia, and in 2008 his wife, Adriane, filed a malpractice suit that remains in litigation.
Jones visited Springs in the hospital last year.
“He blinked his eyes,” Jones said. “He knew it was me.”
Springs’ death prompted an outpouring in Dallas.
“Ron’s life will always be remembered by the joy and laughter that he brought to others and the courage and toughness he displayed until the end,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “Regardless of the circumstances, he always had a smile for everyone. The Dallas Cowboys have lost a wonderful member of our family, and we share our thoughts and prayers with his family.”
“People will remember what he went through,” Walls told the Morning News. “People will remember his strength in going through this, and hopefully people will remember the strength of his family throughout these three-and-a-half years of staying by his side.”
His blood family includes son Shawn, a former NFL cornerback, and his adopted family includes Mel Jones.
“If I had to sum it up,” Jones said, “I’d say he was the pacesetter for greatness for a lot of kids. … He was one of the finest young men I’ve ever been around.”
Here's a link to the Dallas Morning News story on Springs' passing.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun