They attended Ohio State and were married seven years ago, but it was not until their daughter, Madison, was born in March 1994, Stefanie says, that she began to detect signs that her husband was mellowing. During the couple's childless years in Detroit, Stefanie spent extended periods in Chicago doing modeling work. "When I was gone," she says, "Chris would seal himself off from the rest of the world. Our friends called him the Hermit."
Nowadays, rather than sequester himself in the house each night, he takes Madison and Noah for a walk and often ends up playing with the neighborhood kids. During Madison's equestrian lessons, he sits in the bleachers at the stables, cheering and performing one-man waves. Stefanie reports that while watching a trailer for a movie in which misfortune befalls a child, her so-called brutish husband "covered his eyes and said, 'I can't watch. It's too painful!' "
He has approached fatherhood the way he approaches the gap for which he is responsible on goal line defense: by hurling himself into it. He became so excited and full of wonder during both of Stefanie's pregnancies that he wrote short poems, which he shared last summer with The Sporting News. An excerpt from one:
I can't wait to see
Our baby's first stare
Then for sure I will know
The unconditional love that babies and parents share
Robert Louis Stevenson he ain't. Still, it took guts to share that. Why make his poems public? "I don't think it had anything to do with showing my feminine side," says Spielman. (We didn't think so either.) "I am such a strong believer in marriage and family, I have no problem with people seeing how passionately I feel about my kids."
He had the camcorder out this month for Madison's first day of preschool. He had already interviewed the teacher. Having given the place the once-over, he said, "I see a lot of toys. Where are the letters and numbers? Are we going to get any work done?"
Before driving to that interview, he had made a wisecrack about making sure his daughter wouldn't be subjected to any "Communist" influences. This is a frequent vein of Spielman humor: He has posited that artificial turf and domed stadiums are "a Communist plot" to weaken the U.S.
Even his conspiracy theories have a quaint, retro flavor, in keeping with his reputation as a throwback player. If there was ever a doubt that he sees himself as such, it was erased during a 1994 game against the Chicago Bears, when having stripped a receiver, he raced 25 yards into the end zone, slid on his knees and touched the ball down with both hands—which is what you had to do to score a touchdown in the NFL's Jurassic era. This arcane act, Spielman explained, was his way of "paying tribute to all the men who have played this wonderful game before me." Did we mention that Spielman was born in Canton, Ohio?
When his playing career is over, he would like to coach. Would he hold his players to the same gonzo standard that has made him one of the most intense, most extreme players in NFL history?
The answer is no. "I realize there's more than one way to skin a cat," he says. Just because he enjoys denying himself water during off-season workouts ("I know it's stupid," he says) doesn't mean he would make his players do that. As he expounds on his coaching theories—he's big on consistency and positive reinforcement—Spielman sounds almost progressive.