View Full Version : Ex-Cowboy Donates Kidney to Ex-Teammate

06-25-2007, 10:10 AM

Walls gives gift of life to Springs

By Jennifer Allen
Special to NFL.com

Football is family. Friendships are forged on the field. We see this often. But seldom do we see how far on-the-field family can extend into a man's off-the-field life.

The bond between two former Dallas Cowboys -- fullback Ron Springs and cornerback Everson Walls -- had endured for well over 20 years now. And when spending an afternoon with both of these men, it soon becomes clear that theirs is a friendship destined to last a lifetime.

Springs and Walls first met during head coach Tom Landry's notoriously disciplined training camps back in the early 1980s. At the time, Springs was the proven veteran fullback. Walls was the rookie free agent, hoping to make the team as a cornerback.

"I guess my first impression of Ron was obviously, he was a big mouth," Walls tells me, seated beside Springs in the "big mouth's" living room in Plano, Texas. "He was the guy that had the grand stage, had his chest stuck out. Every time you saw there was always some type of court he had around him."

Walls, a quiet guy, didn't feel the need to try to break into Springs' daunting company of Cowboys veterans -- Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Tony Dorsett and Harvey Martin.

And so Walls, a graduate of Eddie Robinson's football program at Grambling, mostly kept to himself. "All those guys were big-school guys. I wanted to keep my edge and keep my chin on my shoulders so that when it was time to compete, I'd have no mercy."

Springs interrupts Walls: "It wasn't an edge. I think he was scared. He was waiting in the wings, so I wouldn't have to hit him hard during practices."

To which Walls responds, "I was truly disappointed because I expected more."

At this, they both laugh. You can tell by the way they elbow one another with words and gestures that these men share much more than simply memories from the gridiron.

Time and again, Ron Springs could count on Everson Walls and his family for support.
Over the years, their families have taken cross-country drives together. They have become godparents to each other's children. They have settled into post-NFL life in homes less than a mile apart. Their wives talk on the phone, the men claim, no less than three times a day. And Springs' son, Shawn, already an 11-year NFL veteran, wears number 24 in a tribute to "Uncle" Everson, who shouldered the same number.

This unbreakable bond was made even stronger in the past few years when Ron had to battle with diabetes.

In 1991, when Springs was diagnosed with the disease, he admits he was "in denial." He said, "I thought it was just a hindrance for me. I didn't really take it serious."

Says Walls, "We would play these celebrity basketball games, and Ron was letting these old dorky guys run by him. And, at first, I thought he was just being lazy or he was just out of shape because I was very ignorant to what diabetes could do to you."

As Walls talks about his friend, Springs nods his head. His body is lean. His fingers are curled, the effects of the disease.

"I was in denial as well," Walls continues. "I was thinking there is no way that diabetes was going to take him out at all. I didn't even think it was going to change his lifestyle -- that's how ignorant I was about it."

But soon the men found themselves overcome with the realities of diabetes. In 2004, after 10 years of struggling to control his blood sugar levels, his kidneys failed. He began dialysis three times a week. His name was placed on the National Transplant Waiting list in need of a new kidney. And as the disease wore on, both families drew closer.

Springs wife, Adriane, works and couldn't always be there to tend to her husband's daily needs. And so Walls' wife, Shreill, would often come over, and tend to Ron, help him comb his hair, wash his face, brush his teeth.

During the offseason, Shawn would come home to find only a vague reminder of the man who often beat him in backyard races. And when Shawn learned that the wait for a donor could take over four years, he offered to give his dad one of his own kidneys. Such a surgery would put an end to his NFL career. But Shawn was ready to make the sacrifice.

"My dad quickly shut that down," Shawn explains, home visiting his parents between Redskins minicamps. Diabetes is hereditary and Ron didn't want his son's future put in jeopardy. Watching his son play in the NFL was one of the few joys Springs still had in life.

But as Ron waited for a donor, his health continued to fail. In 2005, he was forced to make a life-altering decision. A staph infection was taking over his body, his wife, Adriane explains. "It originated in his foot, and it started to travel."

Eventually, it traveled to his left heart valve. There was a concern the infection would eventually reach his brain. The only thing to stop the infection would be to amputate his foot. A decision: lose your limb, or lose your life.

"It was so hard for him," Adriane went on. "But then he said, 'I want to live. I'd rather live.' "

"He was just an example of hope, faith and toughness," Shawn remembers of that difficult time.

After the amputation of his right foot, Ron continued to wait for a donor. But he worried that his body was not healthy enough to receive a new kidney. So he asked his former teammate and best friend to help him work out to try to rebuild his strength.

Three times during his 13-year career in the NFL, Walls had led the league in interceptions. Once he stepped off the field, he maintained his daily training regime. Still, helping his friend work out was not an easy task.

"It was more of a workout for me," Walls explains. "I had to lift him."

Walls would lift his friend from a wheelchair and onto a workout bench where they slowly tried to stretch and circulate his hands, arms and legs.

"With the atrophy of his muscles, it was pretty hard work," Walls explained. "It was kind of painful for him because he could only go so far."

It was painful for Walls, too. It was hard to watch his teammate, an eight-year NFL veteran, a man who once shared a backfield with Tony Dorsett, to now be overwhelmed by a disease that was invading his body and his spirit.

Years after ending a successful career, Everson Walls proved he's still a team player.
"Ron's always been the guy that wanted to show nothing but strength and pride -- which is what most football players do. When he started going through all that stuff, that was a time there where you could see that it was hitting him pretty hard."

As the two men spent more time together, Walls realized there was more he could do to help his friend. "I just didn't think we had the luxury of waiting for anyone on the donor list to come through."

And so, without telling his friend, Walls was tested to determine if he was a donor match.

"Please, God, let him be a match," was all Shreill prayed during the test. She didn't fear for her husband. Shreill's fears were simply for one person -- the husband of her very best friend.

Walls was a match. And in late February, both men entered a Dallas hospital to undergo the transplant surgery. Several members of the Springs and Walls families were there for support. Walls' mother even came along.

"My last two things I said when I was going into the operating room," Springs recalls, "I thanked Miss Walls for having him, so that he was able to do this for me." And then, Springs turned to Shawn and told his eldest child and only son, "If anything happens to me, you hold down the fort."

Five hours later, the surgery was deemed a success. And today, Ron Springs looks only toward the future.

"I feel great now," he says. "I got great energy, and I'm just willing to keep working until I get it right."

Looking at these men, these former athletes -- the one who endured the suffering and continues to do so with an uplifted spirit; and the one who offered up something from his own body to save another man's life -- it becomes clear the true character of a champion is defined by how a man conducts his life after he steps off the playing field.

"Everson's the hero," Springs says, "because he gave up something to a friend that he didn't have to give."

Walls shakes his head. "When you start talking about heroes, I mean, that's when you give something that you really can't afford," he says. "I could afford to do that for him, and I did it."

Spoken like a hero. And even more, a true friend.

06-25-2007, 10:26 AM
Very Classy move donating the kidney.

Livinginthe past
06-25-2007, 11:01 AM
Ah, nice story 76 - thanks :cheers:

06-25-2007, 11:10 AM
Ah, nice story 76 - thanks :cheers:

That's for sure.

06-25-2007, 01:11 PM
No doubt.

I have a friend who gave up a kidney for his mom and it was a pretty big sacrifice. Doing something like that changes the way you live your life.

06-30-2007, 04:37 PM
I think that this was an awesome story myself... and wish all involved best wishes. God Bless those who are willing to give instead of always wanting....