Chris Spielman will be both thrilled and saddened today.
On one hand, the only individual honor he said he ever wanted will come to pass when the former Ohio State linebacker is inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at an awards banquet in New York.
On the other hand, there’s a big hole. Spielman makes the trip without his wife, Stefanie, who died of cancer on Nov. 19.
“I’m looking forward to it, but there’s going to be something missing,” Spielman said. “Stefanie was such a big part of my success. That’s not going to ruin the trip, but I’m not going to lie and say there’s not going to be something missing.
“But I understand that she would be upset if I was in a down mood all the time, so I just kind of embrace it for what it is — like a lot of days, it’s a roller-coaster ride.”
Spielman said he is dealing with the aftermath of Stefanie’s death by telling his four children to come to terms with, “the new normal.”
“It takes some time to get used to,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with a bunch of firsts — first day back at school (without Stefanie), back at church, first Christmas.”
Stefanie was lauded for her passion — to her family, and to the cause of breast-cancer research — but in his playing days, Chris was known for exhibiting that trait, as well.
At OSU from 1984 to 1987, he was a two-time All-American, winner of the 1987 Lombardi Award, and is the school’s third-leading tackler (546) and first in solo tackles (283).
He becomes the 28th former OSU player or coach to reach the hall. His class will be enshrined next summer at the hall in South Bend, Ind.
Beyond the numbers, Spielman played with a zeal that few who knew him will ever forget.
Earle Bruce, Spielman’s coach at OSU, recalled the first time he saw Spielman play in person, at Massillon Washington High School.
“He kicked off, he returned kickoffs, he punted, he returned punts, he played linebacker and made almost every tackle, and he ran the ball 25 times from the tailback spot,” Bruce said. “I couldn’t believe a guy could do what he did and play from start to finish in a ballgame and never get tired, never raise his hand to come out of a ballgame.
“I wanted to come back the next week, to make sure it was not a one-night affair. I came back and he did it all again.”
Spielman said he was shaped by growing up the son of a coach (the late Sonny Spielman), but also recognizes he had something unique inside.
“I think I had the ability to make (the game) the most important thing in the world each and every week,” he said. “I saw that you only had so many opportunities, so go make the most of each game. I’d like to think I did that.”
When Spielman’s election to the hall was announced in April, he said he hoped his whole family could be with him in New York.
Now that that’s not the case, he said he looks back fondly on a halftime ceremony at the OSU-Navy game Sept. 5. He was recognized for his hall of fame honor, and Stefanie — in a wheelchair — joined him and their children on the field as the stadium crowd gave them an extended ovation.
“I’m convinced that ovation, as it should have been, was more for her than it was for me,” he said. “That kind of gives me some relief, that she had that moment that she deserved. It takes a little of the sting out of it.”