Sat, 04 Jul 2020

Where are they now: Chris Spielman

Detroit Lions
25 May 2020, 20:25 GMT+10

Chris Spielman is piling up miles in the workout program he established for this year the way Detroit Lions fans remember him piling up tackles in the eight seasons he patrolled the old Pontiac Silverdome playing linebacker.

He sounded like he was on the move - which he was -- when he spoke in an interview earlier this year at his home outside Columbus, Ohio.

Spielman had set a goal of covering 6,000 miles for the year, and he was at a pace to hit 3,000 miles before the end of June. That would put him more than halfway to his goal with seven months left.

"That's cycling, jogging, elliptical, Stairmaster and walking," Spielman said, explaining how he would accumulate the 6,000 miles.

He started fast, reaching the 1,000-mile mark early in February.

"I'm kind of crushing the goal," he said.

So slow down? Cut back?

Of course not.

"I'm debating whether I should up the ante now," Spielman said. "My wife (Carrie) is asking me why I do it. I've got to compete. This is the only thing I can compete in.

"I have to average 16.5 miles a day (to reach 6,000). I'm averaging 21 a day. And I'm lifting five days a week."

It should surprise no one who watched Spielman play football that he would work to crush a goal - and raise the bar.

He was one of the most popular players of his era in the eight seasons he played for the Detroit Lions (1988-95). He made four Pro Bowls as a Lion, was first or second-team All Pro three times and was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His all-out style and blue-collar work ethic attracted a loyal following which reveres him to this day.

He remains popular with fans as the analyst for Lions' preseason telecasts, and his "3 & Out" video series on Detroitlions.com.

Spielman played his last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills (1996-97), then took the 1998 season off to help care for his first wife, Stefanie, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that year.

Stefanie passed away in 2009 after a 12-year battle. Stefanie was 42 and lived a life that was measured not by time but by the weight and impact of its legacy.

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Football is the thread that binds Spielman from his days as an exuberant youngster to being a star football player at Ohio State and with the Lions, and as a highly respected analyst.

Spielman, 54, grew up in a football atmosphere in Canton, Ohio, where his late father, Sonny, was a successful high school coach.

As a youngster, Chris was excited to see his grandmother visit the house and ran to greet her with open arms. He was a little too excited. He broke his grandmother's nose.

"A perfect tackle ... a natural linebacker," Sonny Spielman supposedly said with fatherly pride.

There was a lot to be proud of in Spielman's playing career.

He was a tackling machine in college and the NFL. Spielman was the leading tackler all eight of his seasons in Detroit and in his first season in Buffalo in 1997.

Spielman didn't make those plays only on natural ability and desire. He watched more film than most movie critics.

He prepares with the same detail and precision in his current position as an analyst on NFL games for FOX. It was a natural progression in his post-playing career. He began with a studio show for FOX, eventually moved to ESPN as a college analyst, then signed back with FOX and the NFL in 2016.

Spielman conducts his own team meeting before games with the production and camera crew doing the game.

"I started doing that with ESPN for a couple reasons," he said. "I always have that team concept in mind, and I wanted the tape and camera people to know how important they are to me doing a good job. I want to familiarize them with stuff I'm looking for during the game.

"It works really well. I think those guys appreciate it. I want them to know I can't do that job without them doing their job. At the end of the meeting I tell them, 'You play good, I play real good. You play bad, I play real bad."

Stefanie's illness put Chris in a position that was new to him. As much support as he gave Stefanie - and it was limitless - he had no control over the outcome.

"It humbled me to no end," he says now. "When people are in that situation, people either run to God or run away from God."

He relied on the core values he had developed throughout his life.

"That's something I took very seriously," he said. "It was being tested, and now was the time for me to answer that test. It gave me a chance to set an example for our young children at the time, and how to deal with difficult circumstances in life, which they've had and will continue to have.

"It was the first challenge in my life that I had no control over it. I couldn't out lift it. I couldn't out hustle it. I couldn't out tackle it. I had to give control to God and her doctors.

"I felt woefully inadequate a lot of times because I had four kids from 15 down to five. I just felt like I wasn't doing enough. But then it hit me, probably two or three years ago, how my kids turned out spiritually, mentally and physically.

"I did a pretty darn good job."

Stefanie left a legacy of courage and grace, and an enduring commitment in the fight, treatment and care of cancer victims and survivors through the establishment of the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research.

Spielman is active in the fund (Spielmanfund.com) and proud of what it represents for the family.

"Back in 1998, when Stefanie was initially diagnosed, we had a goal to raise $250,000," Spielman said. "Now we're at more than $23 million, and it's still growing. It's a testament to Stef, my kids and to our family, and even to my wife now (Carrie) for continuing what she started.

"It's quite a legacy for what Stefanie started."

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