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Wednesday, June 9, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dawkins Runs A Route From Personal Tragedy -- Seahawk Receiver Attempts To Deal With Mother's Death

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

KIRKLAND - He probably shouldn't be here. That's what his uncle told him. He should take some time off and go on a vacation. He should spend a week or two on some exotic island in the middle of nowhere and do nothing.

Someone suggested he leave the Seahawk minicamp and go home, but that's the last place Sean Dawkins wants to be right now. He has lived in Sunnyvale, Calif., for most of his life, but the Silicon Valley city at the south end of the Bay Area just doesn't feel like home anymore.

Not since he received a page that he will never forget.

Sean, come home. Your mother has passed away.

He didn't believe it. He read the message over and over, not wanting to accept the fact that his mother's seemingly endless bout with cancer was over. He knew how the fight would end. Few who battle the disease win.

But there was something about his mother, Sharon Ray, that was different. She was a fighter. Dawkins remembered when he was a little boy how she drove them across the country - from New Jersey to California - in an old Chevy to begin a new life.

She didn't have a job or any idea how they would get along, but they made it. Ever since, she had provided for him. She raised him by herself when his father left.

Sharon Ray was not just his mother, but she was his cheerleader, care-giver, confidant and best friend. She had played so many roles in his life that a part of him believed she would be able to beat the disease that was slowly killing her.

And for a while, she did.

Maybe that's why he felt it was OK to leave her with family and friends for a few days. Dawkins took a trip to Las Vegas, wanting to clear his head. He had spent two weeks at his mother's side watching her deteriorate, and he needed to get away.

"You know, it's not supposed to happen that way," he said. "As a kid you think, your parents aren't supposed to get weak. They're supposed to be strong. . . . But then the roles reverse and you're the strong one and you've got to help them."

Perhaps it was best that Dawkins was in Las Vegas when his mother died May 21. Family members witnessed her final moments, and their descriptions weren't pretty.

"I'm glad I wasn't there," he said. "We had our day (two days) before."

Sharon Ray, 53, died on a Friday. She spent Wednesday afternoon with Dawkins, and it was as if the cancer had never entered their lives.

They watched TV in bed, ate ice cream and finished the day with a trip to a nearby coffee shop, where they sipped lattes and talked for nearly three hours. It was the afternoon of a lifetime.

"I had a lot to do that day, packing and stuff and getting ready for Vegas," Dawkins said. "But for some reason I stopped what I was doing and spent the day with my mother.

"It was fun. It was great. We had a good conversation about life and the future and we laughed for the first time in a long time. . . . I value that day. I think that was something from God to get that time before she went away."

That was three weeks ago.

Dawkins said he mourned privately but admits he probably shouldn't have returned to Seattle so soon. He probably shouldn't be at Seahawk headquarters catching footballs in the afternoon sun as if everything is OK. Because everything is far from OK. Everything is "about as crazy as it's ever been in life. I'm totally lost right now," he said.

"I miss my mother to death right now because there ain't nobody else in my life outside of my grandfather, and he just went into the hospital. I was thinking about leaving (Seattle yesterday) morning, but I called back and he's feeling a little bit better."

Dawkins' grandfather, Arthur O'Neil, has been diagnosed with a hole in an artery in his heart. He is receiving treatment in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Sunnyvale.

The 20-minute conversation on a park bench after practice seemed more like therapy than an interview. Dawkins hasn't shared his emotions. Only a handful of his new teammates know about his mother.

"He's quiet," Seahawk receivers coach Nolan Cromwell said. "He's the type of guy that's going to keep everything to himself. He's not one to spread his problems around to everybody.

"He told me that he hasn't been working out like he wants to, and I understand that. He's got other things going on in his life right now that have nothing to do with football and take priority right now."

But Dawkins won't stray too far from the game.

"Football allows me to run away from a lot of that stuff that's bothering me," Dawkins said. "You've got to concentrate on so much that you don't really think about other things. Besides, I've got to get away from friends and family. They keep asking me, `Are you all right?' And you get tired of hearing that after a while.

"I just try to keep moving so I don't have to stop and think about it too much. When I think about it, when I slow down, I know it's really going to affect me."

His desire to stay close to his mother was the main reason Dawkins, a free-agent receiver, landed in Seattle. His relationship with his old boss, New Orleans Coach Mike Ditka, was beyond repair because their football ideas didn't coincide.

"He just wanted his receivers to block," Dawkins said. "I kind of like him, I really do, but we were miles apart on too many things."

Last season, Dawkins caught 53 passes for 823 yards but scored only one touchdown. He went shopping for a new team, and many coveted the 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver. However, his desire to be near his mother brought him to Seattle.

Now Dawkins questions fate. After six years in the NFL, he is finally in a passing offense with a team that will contend for a playoff berth. These should be the best days of his life.

Instead he spends his days and nights reliving memories about his best friend. He thinks about the 3,000-mile car ride, an afternoon at a coffee house and the painful message on his pager.

"Just when you're in the position to do some things for the people you love, give back, this happens," he said. "And you wonder why."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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