Chris's voice goes soft. He looks at the tiled floor. "I'm glad you don't wear it," he says.
On Sundays, when Stefanie is up to it, the Spielmans go to church. Fortunately, that has been most Sundays. During Mass, Chris's mind wanders to the football field. When they get home, Chris turns on a game in the family room—the Columbus CBS affiliate has tortured its viewers with the Cincinnati Bengals all fall—and walks by it, never sitting for any length of time. "I might go for a walk or take a drive or watch a movie or run errands," he says. "I can watch a college game, I guess because I know I'm done with that. But I can't watch an NFL game. It's too hard."
Even with the Bills in the thick of the AFC playoff race, it was too hard to travel down I-71 to watch his teammates beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. He hardly knows Doug Flutie, so it's strange for him to watch the highlights of Flutie's transforming the Bills back into a playoff contender. "It's a strange, no-win situation," Spielman says. "When they win, I'm really happy for them, but I also feel, Well, they don't need me anymore. When they lose, I wish I could have been there to do something to help."
Doctors have told the Spielmans they believe Stefanie's cancer was caught in time. Chris wants badly to continue his career next season. But will he do it in Buffalo? A friend says Spielman was angered to hear that the man playing his position, inside linebacker John Holecek, signed a five-year, $12 million contract extension in October. Spielman says he's happy for Holecek and doesn't blame the Bills for ensuring their future. "But when I come back," he says, "Holecek is going to have to move. That's my position."
Spielman is working out three hours a morning, five days a week under Ohio State strength coach Dave Kennedy—his mother and mother-in-law help with the kids while he's exercising—and he says he's certain he can return as a starter in 1999. He's so certain that he keeps a calendar counting down the days to training camp. Still, last Thursday he called Bills owner Ralph Wilson and asked where he stood. "I told Chris to forget the rumors he's hearing," Wilson says. "I want him back. We want him back." But as a starter, at age 33, after taking a year off?
Spielman is pacing again. He stops to fix his questioner with the same stare he has beamed at the likes of Brett Favre and Steve Young for the last decade. "My neck is healed," he says, "and some linebackers—Hardy Nickerson, Kevin Greene, Jessie Tuggle—are playing great in their 30s. When Stefanie beats this cancer, whatever hunger and passion I had as a player, multiply that times three. That's what I will bring back to the NFL."