Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Chris Spielman
Someday my son is going to ask me what it means to be a "real man."

And hopefully I can be the definition he is looking for with his question.

However, I haven't faced the obstacles that many others have encountered. I can only hope that if I'm ever tested against certain adversity that I'd protect my family, always do what is right, and be an example of how to be a "real man."

Fortunately, there is one man that my son can readily use as a role model, a true definition of a "real man."

His name is Chris Spielman.

The former Ohio State football player was a two-time consensus All-American (1986, 87), a three-time All-Big Ten first-team selection (1985, 86, 87)  and the winner of the Lombardi Award (given to the nation's best lineman/linebacker) in 1987. Spielman is the Buckeyes' all-time leader in solo tackles (283) and third in total tackles (546) for a career. 

Spielman is tied with Tom Cousineau for the all-time record for tackles in a game at Ohio State with 29, which coincidentally came against arch-rival Michigan in 1986. He also collected 22 tackles at Washington that season. He is one of just two players in OSU history to record more than 200 total tackles in a season. 

I have followed Spielman ever since he was wreaking havoc as a star linebacker for the Buckeyes.

When I was first beginning to watch football as a child I had a problem trying to figure out which guy had the ball. I remember my father sitting me in front of the television — with an Ohio State game on — and telling me to "just keep your eyes on number 36 and you will soon find the ball."

When it comes to natural linebacking instincts, Spielman has no equal. He could get from point A to point B quicker than any linebacker I have ever seen play the game, regardless of playing level.

In a nutshell, when I think Ohio State football ... I think of Spielman.

But it isn't just his incredibly inspiring play on the gridiron that makes me use Spielman as the answer to my son's question.

It's off the gridiron where he has walked the real walk.

As many know, football was life to Spielman. He was a student of the game and an absolute warrior on the field. It's who he was, it's in his blood. It's what he was meant to do on this Earth.

However, when the actual love of his life — wife Stefanie — was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, Spielman, who was in the midst of making a comeback after suffering a spinal injury, tossed the game of football to the side like he used to fling running backs to the turf.

"I told her that I'm taking a year off and she cried harder than she did when she found out she had cancer," Spielman said on the NFL Network show 'The Football Life.' "She knew what football meant to me, and what this supposed comeback meant to me ...

"I couldn't let her go through that alone, and it was my duty as a husband to walk through that with her. It's my duty, nobody else's duty," Spielman said. "I said in sickness and in health to her, and in front of God, and the witnesses, and I meant it."

Stefanie's sister, Sue Fitz, said Spielman dropped everything to help Stefanie fight her battle with cancer.

"He gave up everything for her," Fitz said, "and put his life aside to help her."

Before passing away in November of 2009 — after battling the disease for 11 years — Stefanie said that seeing Chris give up the game he loves so dearly, just to be by her side, was the most difficult part of the entire process.

"That's been the hardest part." Stefanie said. "I have seen him give up what he loves the best for me."

But that's what "real men" do. That's what Chris Spielman does.

"Her treatments go through January and it's impossible for me to be in two places at one time," Spielman said back in 1998, when Stefanie was first diagnosed. "I would play in a heartbeat, but what kind of man would I be if I backed out on my own word to her? 

"I wouldn't be a man at all."

In this day and age of worshipping athletes who are great on the field, but a train wreck off of it — cheating on their wives, having multiple illegitimate children, doing drugs, and getting arrested — Spielman is a throwback in every sense of the word.

He is also a renaissance man ... in a manner of speaking.

"He became my nurse, my caretaker, Mr. Mom, the cook — if you can call it that," Stefanie joked, about Chris' contributions at home during a cancer awareness benefit prior to her death.

The fact is, Spielman didn't just do those things because that's what men do, he did it because Stefanie, and not football, was the real love of his life.

She was everything to him.

In fact, with all of the accolades which Spielman has garnered in his athletic life — two-time All-American, CFB Hall of Famer and four-time NFL Pro Bowler — he will admit that the greatest accomplishment he has ever witnessed in sports came from Stefanie.

Just weeks prior to her death in 2009, the Spielman family participated in the "Run for a Cure" cancer benefit in Columbus. As they were pushing Stefanie in her wheelchair down the final stretch of the race, she decided she wanted to walk the rest of the way to the finish, even though she hadn't walked in weeks.

With Chris and their oldest daughter holding her up, Stefanie walked the rest of the way through the finish line.

"That was the greatest sports victory that I've ever witnessed," Chris said of Stefanie's monumental accomplishment. "It's one of the best moments of my life."

Just before she passed, Stefanie and Chris had a final heart-to-heart ...

"I asked her if I was a good husband? And she said I was the best." Chris said. "And I remember telling her I promise to continue the legacy with the fund and raising money and awareness, and I'll be the best dad that I can be. And my effort is there on a consistent basis no matter what."

He has become Stefanie's champion, and said he will finish being so when "I open up the paper and it says 'Humanity wins, cancer loses'"

Spielman gives all he has no matter if it's being a football player, a husband, a father or fighting against a disease which took his wife's life.

So, what's the definition of being a "real man," son? ...

See: Chris Spielman.

— To contribute to the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research, click here.