Another Dreary season in Seattle had ended, and Sea-hawks cornerback Shawn Springs was fed up. Ray Rhodes and a marathon meal at The Cheesecake Factory changed all that.
Last February when Seattle coach Mike Holmgren hired Rhodes to be his third defensive coordinator in five years, the talented but disgruntled Springs wanted out of the Pacific Northwest. "I was talking to the Seahawks around that time, telling them I wanted to get traded," Springs recalled last week between practices at the team's Cheney, Wash., training camp. "We were bad on defense—couldn't stop the run, couldn't pressure the passer—and it was just killing me."
Rhodes, a man about as subtle as Arnold Schwarzenegger's political ambitions, would have none of it. He and Teryl Austin, Seattle's newly hired secondary coach, flew to San Diego, where Springs was engaged in off-season workouts, and the trio had what the seventh-year cornerback estimates was a four-hour lunch in Mission Valley.
"The first thing Ray said was, 'Man, come on, now—don't do me like that,' " Springs recalls. "We sat there at The Cheesecake Factory and talked about everything. I told him how I'd felt about the last four years, that I was tired of taking the blame. And I came away thinking, This is the guy who's going to make me a player."
The third pick in the 1997 draft, Springs blossomed into a star in his second season, earning his sole Pro Bowl berth after intercepting seven passes and scoring three touchdowns. Then Holmgren replaced Dennis Erickson, and Springs began a gradual descent marked by injuries (ranging from turf toe to hamstring problems) and, in 2001, a four-week suspension for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. Seattle is 47-49 in his six seasons and, in its only playoff appearance during that period, lost in the wild-card round in 1999.
The blunt and cantankerous Rhodes, who resigned after two years in Denver as Mike Shanahan's defensive coordinator—the Broncos had the league's sixth-ranked unit last season but were shaky in the red zone and on third down—is being hailed as a savior by the Seahawks' veteran defenders. Springs, whose contract expires after this season, isn't sure whether this will be his last year in Seattle, but he's certainly excited about the season ahead. "If I look bad in Ray Bob's defense," Springs says, "then I can't play."