tampabay.com

Spielman finds balance in booth

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published December 30, 2005


Chris Spielman always saw himself as a coach once his playing days were over, his breakneck play on the field replaced by nights watching video and sleeping on a sofa in his office before an early morning practice.

But how, he now realizes, could he do all that and put together a popcorn machine for his children on Christmas Eve while enjoying Nevada's overtime victory over Central Florida on television?

Family man, football fan.

"I know if I was coaching I would turn into what I was as a player," said Spielman, a former Ohio State star and four-time NFL Pro Bowl player for the Detroit Lions whose ferocious linebacking made him a fan favorite. "I'm not going to sacrifice the husband and father in me to be a coach. I don't have ... the ability to do both."

Not now, with four children at home and a wife, Stefanie, who has been battling breast cancer. When she was diagnosed in 1998, Spielman took a year off from his NFL career.

When the cancer returned last year, he walked away from his gig as college football analyst for ESPN, though he continued to receive a check each week and returned it because "I didn't earn that money."

Well, he's earning it again, returning for the 2005 season that he caps Monday by working the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

Though he hasn't seen Florida live this season, he's very familiar with its opponent, Iowa, having worked three Hawkeye games this season.

He sees Monday's game as a chess match between up-and-coming coaches in Kirk Ferentz and Urban Meyer, and thinks the key to victory for either team lies in how the athleticism of the Gator defense matches up with Iowa's versatile attack and big wide receivers.

"I think it's going to be a close game," Spielman said. "Iowa usually plays pretty well in the postseason, and I hope that people in Florida know what a nice matchup this is."

The broadcast booth fits Spielman perfectly for the moment. He has all but ruled out coaching, especially after a not-so-fun season coaching in the Arena Football League for Columbus last spring, choosing instead the flexibility of his budding broadcasting career.

"I get to spend a lot of time with my family, which is the most important thing right now," he said.

"I thought I'd play and coach and die, but obviously cancer forces you to make decisions and priorities, and certainly that was the case with me."

Stefanie is cancer-free but still gets tested every three months. It is the primary reason Spielman is so zealous about his time with the family. "We live scan to scan," he said. "It's three months at a time, so we need that flexibility.

"Everything's good in our house right now. We have a (saying): Today's a good day, tomorrow looks good and after that I don't know. You appreciate every day. It's a good way to live."

A bowl of popcorn and a good college football game is enough to remind him of that.