Spielman faces retirement

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 30, 1999

The Associated Press

BEREA – When the Cleveland Browns signed him, Chris Spielman gave them his word.

Monday, August 30, 1999

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BEREA – When the Cleveland Browns signed him, Chris Spielman gave them his word. He promised if he couldn’t play at an acceptable level, he would hand in his jersey and walk away from the game he loved without shedding a tear.

That day may have arrived prematurely for No. 54.

Spielman, the Browns’ intense middle linebacker attempting a comeback from neck fusion surgery in 1997, could announce his retirement today after sustaining a second ”stinger” in his surgically repaired neck following a violent hit in an exhibition game on Saturday night.

Spielman suffered temporary paralysis after being blindsided by Bears center Casey Wiegmann during the Browns’ 35-24 win over Chicago. The 33-year-old Spielman was helped from the field after the collision and taken to the Cleveland Clinic for an MRI.

It was the second time during the preseason that Spielman has had to undergo tests following a ferocious hit. On the first day of training camp, he and fullback Tarek Saleh had a helmet-to-helmet collision that initially gave Spielman second thoughts about his comeback.

After the most recent hit, Spielman, an Ohio football icon, is again contemplating retirement.

”He’s exploring all of his options,” said Browns coach Chris Palmer, who spoke to Spielman twice on Sunday. ”He’s trying to think things out. He’s looking at things from different sides. He’s going to look at everything and go from there.”

Palmer wouldn’t go so far as to say if he recommended to Spielman that the 10-year veteran should retire. However, Palmer intimated all that may be left for Spielman to do was announce his career was over.

”There’s some things that have to be ironed out, discussed, looked at,” said Palmer, who was visibly shaken after Saturday’s game. ”I think once that’s all done I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

After speaking with Spielman over the phone early Sunday morning from the hospital, Palmer said the two visited again at 8 a.m. in Palmer’s office.

”We had a good conversation,” Palmer said. ”It was very candid. It was a situation that he expressed some things to me, I expressed some things to him that will remain private. That’s between the coach and the player."

”I wanted a clear mind in the morning to talk to him. I think he had a clear mind and came in and talked to me. The fact we talked man-to-man and eye-to-eye is real good.”

Spielman was unavailable for comment on Sunday.

Defending a screen play in the first quarter against the Bears, Spielman shed and spun off one blocker, but as he turned and before he could get his feet planted, Wiegmann buried him.

Spielman stayed on the ground for several moments, and later told Cleveland offensive tackle Lomas Brown, who also played with him in Detroit, that he had been momentarily paralyzed.

”It’s scary,” Brown said. ”I don’t want to tell him what to do, but I think he should have a long talk with his wife Stefanie and think about what he wants to do. Life is more important that football.”

Wiegmann offered Spielman some assistance after the play.

”I thought I hit him good, but I didn’t think I did that,” Wiegmann said. ”He looked me right in the eye, and I was going to help him up but he said to me he didn’t want to get up.”

Spielman had two vertebrae fused in his neck in 1997 while he was with the Buffalo Bills. He missed the final eight games that season, and was prepared to come back last year.

But he put his playing career on hold to care for his family after his wife underwent breast cancer surgery. Stefanie is now cancer-free.

The Browns signed him to a three-year contract in February, and Spielman instantly became the expansion team’s most popular player because of his Ohio roots as a high school star at Massillon and All-America at Ohio State.

Spielman has always played every down as if it was his last, and the toll of more than 20 years of punishment may have finally caught up to him.

”There’s nobody playing this game that’s 50 years old,” Palmer said. ”You only have so many blocks, so many tackles in your body and the guy upstairs says it’s time to sit back and watch somebody else play. That happens sometimes when you’re 18, sometimes when you’re 22 or 35. But it happens.”

If Spielman’s career is over, the Browns are losing more than just an inside linebacker, Palmer said. Their losing a player with an unparalleled work ethic who leads by example.

”He’s one of a kind,” Palmer said. ”He’s a guy that owes everything to football. He’s a guy that respects the game, has a passion for the game. His family is in football, he probably grew up with a football on the kitchen table.

”He’s a guy who some people call an overachiever. I don’t know if that’s true because of the production he has had. If there were more guys like that, coaching would be very easy.”

Taken in the second round of the 1988 draft by Detroit, Spielman spent his first eight seasons with the Lions before signing as a free agent with Buffalo in 1996.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, he’s made 1,441 tackles with 10 sacks and six interceptions in 10 seasons. He has started in all 148 he has played.