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WHEN YOU'RE BORN IN CANTON, OHIO, AND YOU GROW UP ROOTING FOR OHIO STATE, I THINK YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO LOOK AROUND AND SEE WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE. BUT FOR ME, OHIO STATE WAS SOMEPLACE I WANTED TO BE. IT'S LIKE AN EXTENDED FAMILY. EVERYBODY IN THE STATE OF OHIO, 99% OF 'EM, ARE BUCKEYES FANS. THAT'S PRETTY unique. And I wanted to live in Ohio when I was done playing. It's my home.
I went to my first Ohio State game in 1979 when I was 14. My dad was a high school football coach, and we had gone up to Michigan State because he had worked at a camp and knew one of the assistants there. I remember being up in East Lansing thinking, Man, these guys are good, and then Ohio State beat 'em [42-0]. I thought, Oh, man, Ohio must be really good. And I knew they were because I grew up with it, but this just put it in a little better perspective for me.
When I was on the team, I was focused. I was certainly aware of the traditions, but it was, O.K., tradition. Fine. Where's the game? I guess it really hit me when I moved back here [after college] and came to a game at Ohio Stadium. I was down on the sideline, and I finally got to see Script Ohio being performed. I looked into the eyes of the sousaphone player before he ran out to dot the i, and that's when it kind of hit me how special it was. I was really able to embrace what that means not only to the players but to the band, to the fans, and what it meant to Bob Hope when he dotted the i, or to Jack Nicklaus or Woody Hayes.
One thing I noticed when I was playing in the NFL was the camaraderie among Buckeyes. If we won, I would go look for Ohio State guys. (I was a bad loser, so if we lost, I just went in the locker room.) Early in my professional career there were guys who had played before me who would come up to me after a game and act like they knew me my whole life. Then when I had been in the league for a few years, there were guys who were coming into the league, and right away you'd look each other up. You knew you had that special bond that you were Buckeyes and were part of something bigger.
Once in a while, Coach Tressel approaches me to talk to the team about what it means to be a Buckeye, and I tell them they have the responsibility to uphold the tradition of former, current and future players. Last year I spoke to the team before the Washington game, encouraging them because it was a young team and they were going on the road for the first time. We went out to Seattle in '86 and got smoked [40-7]. It was ugly. I told them to make sure it didn't happen again. [Ohio State won 30-14.]
My relationship goes way beyond just football because of the bond I have with the university, whether it's the football program or the James Cancer Hospital and the fund that my wife and I have there. We have a strong bond with the university as a whole, and football gave us the opportunity to build that relationship.
Spielman, 42, is cohost of a sports talk show in Columbus and a college football analyst on ESPN. He and his wife of 19 years, Stefanie, live in Columbus with their four children: Madison, 14, Noah, 12, Macy, 7, and Audrey, 6. The Spielmans started a breast cancer research fund at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center and The James Cancer Hospital in Columbus in honor of Stefanie, who is a breast cancer survivor.