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No challenge too big for Browns' Spielman now


It's not easy for a 33-year-old linebacker to make a comeback after sitting out a season and undergoing neck fusion surgery.

Chris Spielman, though, doesn't think he'll face any pressure on the football field after what he's been through the last year.

"I thought I knew about pressure from football. That was nothing compared to waiting for test results from a biopsy when you know that it doesn't look good," he said.

Spielman's wife, Stefanie, discovered she had breast cancer last year and Spielman sat out the season to support her.

"From her, I learned what real courage is, the kind that goes beyond football. I learned what real toughness is, and what unconditional love is, what stress is," he said.

On Jan. 3, his wife learned she is now cancer-free, so Spieleman is going to give football another shot.

The native of Massillon, Ohio, who starred at Ohio State, wanted to come back with the Browns.

The Buffalo Bills, his last team, granted his wish. But they didn't want to put him on the waiver wire so they traded him to the Browns for something called "past considerations."

John Butler, the Buffalo general manager, said, "We wanted to do things right. We feel it's good that Chris isn't released on the street and he goes to a city where he is a hero. Chris has been through so many things this past year and, the straight-up person he is, why not do something that helps his whole family?"

Spielman, who only has peach fuzz on his head because he shaved it when his wife lost her hair, said he wouldn't have returned if his wife wasn't cancer-free.

"Her hair is growing again, her genuine smile is back. And when I got traded to the Browns, I ran into the room and told her, 'Honey, I got a job again.' It was a great day for both of us," he said.

Now it's up to him to prove he can still play, but he said, "Anyone who has ever bet against me on the football field has lost."


Now that the major leg injury Robert Edwards suffered in an NFL-sanctioned rookie beach flag football game at the Pro Bowl seems likely to end his career, New England owner Robert Kraft is lobbying the other owners for a first-round pick as compensation and salary cap relief.

Kraft's bid isn't likely to be successful, but the league may have problems trying to stage the game next year in the wake of Edwards' injury. This was the third such game the league has staged as part of the Pro Bowl promotion, but the first time it got much attention.

The Patriots, who decided not to match the New York Jets' offer for Curtis Martin last year, now find themselves scrambling to find a running back.

Contract games

As usual, teams are passing out huge contracts for free agents, but these long-term deals aren't always worth the paper they're written on because only the signing bonus is guaranteed.

For example, Raiders quarterback Jeff George signed a five-year, $27 million contract two years ago. He only got $7.2 million of that before being released last week.


Most of the top college prospects are in Indianapolis this weekend to be tested at the annual college scouting combine.

The league pushed it back two weeks this year to encourage more of the top prospects to participate in the workouts. But quarterback Tim Couch, who's likely to be the top pick, announced in advance he'd skip the workouts and scheduled a private workout on March 11 in Lexington, Ky.

First steps

Former Lion Mike Utley, who took his wobbly first steps last week after being paralyzed on Nov. 17, 1991, in a game at Detroit, said, "The whole world came down and crushed me, absolutely devastated me. But you know something? Life doesn't end unless you're six feet under and I ain't six feet under yet."

His goals now are to walk with his mother the three blocks from her home to church and to walk off the field at the Silverdome from the spot where he was injured.

Stalled Bus

Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers isn't happy that the team hasn't re-signed his blocking back, Tim Lester, 31, who made $500,000 last year.

He even offered to rework his contract to free up money for Lester. "I'm terrified at the thought of losing Tim Lester," he said.

He said if they don't sign him, "You have a very, very disgruntled employee."

Another chance

The New York Giants will give troubled quarterback Kerry Collins one more chance, but New Orleans coach Mike Ditka remains skeptical that Collins can do it after he was guilty of turning the ball over 14 times in 24 quarters of play with the Saints last year.

"We could be hypocrites or act like we can't see. Maybe what we saw we didn't see. You saw it. All you guys saw it. It wasn't good. You can't play football in the NFL and be effective playing good one week and bad the next," he said.


Besides an $18.5 million contract, the Saints had an extra perk for former Ravens center Wally Williams when he signed last week.

They arranged a hotel suite for Williams and his wife at Mardi Gras last week.

"They got a second honeymoon," said Terry O'Neil, the Saints' salary cap specialist.

The Saints seem concerned about keeping Williams in shape. The contract includes a $100,000 workout clause each year and another $100,000 weight clause starting next year. He has to stay under 325 pounds to get the money.


"The No. 1 objective in free agency is not to lose your own players."

-- Miami coach Jimmy Johnson after he re-signed linebacker Zach Thomas.

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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