Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Secondary's elder statesman had eventful rookie year

Not to give away how old Shawn Springs is, but it's a little more difficult for him to remember his first career game in the NFL than for, say, Jonathan Wilhite.

But there's no question Springs has vivid memories of his first NFL game, and that's why he still is able to dispense some advice to rookies Darius Butler and Patrick Chung about what to expect when the Patriots host the Bills on Monday night. Butler and Chung have experienced preseason football, but they haven't yet experienced regular-season football.

"That's one of those things, as a rookie, you just have to experience for yourself," said Springs, a 12-year veteran cut by the Washington Redskins in the spring. "You've got to go out and see for yourself. It won't take you but a couple of plays to realize that the speed changes from preseason to regular season to postseason. I ain't never been deep in the playoffs, but in the Super Bowl, I hear it changes, too."

Springs didn't get any kind of grace period to ease his way into the NFL. In the same way Butler and Chung had to contend with the Bengals' Chad Ochocinco in their second preseason game, Springs had to deal right away with one of the best the game had to offer.

"My first NFL game, preseason, was against a guy named Jerry Rice," Springs deadpanned. "I don't know if none of y'all have heard of him."

And his first regular-season game?

"My first regular-season game was against a loud-mouthed guy named Keyshawn who sat out there and talked trash to me the whole time," Springs said. "But it was fun."

The Jets scored 27 first-half points and cruised to a 41-3 victory in that game. Wayne Chrebet caught two touchdown passes, and Jeff Graham and Kyle Brady each caught one. Keyshawn Johnson caught six passes for 68 yards but didn't get into the end zone.

The next week, though, Springs lined up against Ed McCaffrey, and that was a different story.

"I did OK," Springs said. "I did OK. It wasn't the first game they got me. It was the second game and Denver when (John) Elway got me. I took my lumps. That happens to everybody in the NFL. You're going to come in and learn and take your lumps. That's part of the maturing process."

That, though, wasn't what drove home to Springs the fact that he'd arrived in the NFL. That came at a Seattle-area T.G.I. Friday's when the first-round draft pick was out to dinner with a friend. Across the restaurant, he spotted fellow Seahawks Cortez Kennedy and Brian Blades, a pair of defensive stars nearing the end of their careers.

When he looked at them, he saw veterans who had made plenty of money in their NFL careers. When they looked at him, they saw the bonus he'd received for being the No. 3 overall pick out of Ohio State.

"They were smiling," Springs said, "and next thing you know, the lady brings over the tab. I saw their drink bill, and that was my 'Welcome to the NFL' moment. It was like $1,500 worth of alcohol. I was like, 'These guys are alcoholics. Welcome to the NFL.'"

Springs then started to laugh.

"I was like, 'Holy smokes, I just got here!"

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