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Buckeye Heroes: Chris Spielman set the standard for Buckeyes on and off the field

The linebacker should be considered one of the best players in OSU history, as well as a role model husband and father.

USA TODAY Sports Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about Ohio State heroes. Whether they are the biggest names in Buckeye athletic history or underappreciated icons; perhaps even players who made major impacts off the field. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Buckeye Heroes” articles here.

There are certain jersey numbers in Ohio State’s rich football tradition that are forever associated with a specific position. For example, the jersey No. 36 was worn by Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau, from 1975 through 1978. Another linebacker, Marcus Marek, represented the No. 36 well from 1979 through 1982.

For me, the No. 36 will forever be associated with a linebacker from Massillon, Ohio, who wore it from 1984 through 1987 — Chris Spielman. A two-time All-American, the 1987 Lombardi Award winner, and an inductee into The College Football Hall Of Fame, Spielman set the standard for Ohio State linebackers.

It would not be said that Chris Spielman was the most physically gifted linebacker to ever play for Ohio State. Spielman was listed at around 6-feet tall, and had to work out relentlessly in the weight room to try to keep pace with his competitors. It was, and probably forever will be, a source of consternation to Spielman that he was not a first-round draft choice in 1988. As a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, it remains galling to me that the Browns bypassed Spielman to take another linebacker, Clifford Charlton from Florida when Spielman was on the board.

What helped to set Spielman apart from other Ohio State linebackers was his intensity and determination. That is not to imply that other Ohio State linebackers do not play hard, either presently, or in the past, but when you watch video clips of Spielman playing at Ohio State, one could almost get the sense that Spielman was bound and determined to make every tackle. In a last-second, bitter home loss against the Michigan Wolverines in 1986, Spielman registered 29 tackles. Spielman would not be outworked, either on or off the field. There was no “off” switch for Chris Spielman.

An underrated aspect of Chris Spielman that I did not know about when he was a player, but something I have come to enjoy after his playing days, is his sense of humor. Watch the video clip below for an example of what I am talking about. Many thanks to Spielman’s late father for “persuading” Chris to play for Ohio State, instead of going up to “That Team Up North”.

Most of all, and I cannot emphasize this enough, why Spielman is a person I truly look up to and respect — Chris Spielman willingly and wholeheartedly took a year off from his professional career to take care of his wife Stefanie. High school sweethearts from their hometown of Massillon, Ohio, the Spielmans were married and with young children when Stefanie Spielman was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 1998.

Do yourselves a favor, and watch the video on YouTube of “Chris Spielman - A Football Life”. It is well worth the nearly 45 minutes. It is not a lengthy segment, but I completely agree with Oprah Winfrey, at around the 27-minute mark of the video, who proudly told Spielman, “You are what a real man is...”.

Chris and Stefanie Spielman’s long-lasting legacy was the development of The Stefanie Spielman Fund For Breast Cancer Research. Initially, the Spielmans had hoped to raise $250,000. The Stefanie Spielman Fund For Breast Cancer Research has raised over $26 million. The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center in Columbus, Ohio, is a direct result of the Spielmans’ efforts to eliminate cancer. Stefanie Spielman is sadly no longer with us, but Chris Spielman continues to be a tireless advocate for cancer research.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience, but how he stands at times of controversy and challenges...”. As an Ohio State fan, I will always treasure the phenomenal football memories Chris Spielman provided, but I will always applaud him for showing Ohio State fans such as myself what it truly means to live up to your wedding vows, and by putting his wife and children first.