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Chris Spielman's impact extends far beyond 'A Football Life'

By Tim Graham

Chris Spielman never could tolerate losing.

As a child raised in the cradle of football -- Canton, Ohio -- Spielman refused to accept defeat.

"Electric football? I wasn't the only kid who would get frustrated, I'm sure," Spielman says in the latest edition of "A Football Life" on the NFL Network. "But I'm not positive that everybody would smash the game or just throw the players away because they were uncoachable."

"A Football Life" will take a deeply personal look at the former Buffalo Bills linebacker at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Spielman played only two seasons with Buffalo. Here, he defied a career-threatening neck injury and tried to stare down his family's greatest challenge.

The ferocious All-Pro sat out the 1998 season to care for his wife, Stefanie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chris Spielman never would play again.

Cancer surfaced five times in Stefanie Spielman's body, turning her and Chris into crusaders. Chris, whose entire life had been arranged around football, morphed into something else to support his high school sweetheart.

Stefanie Spielman, a mother of four, was 42 when she died in November 2009. Her foundation has raised $11 million for cancer research.

"The whole purpose is to draw something from it, learn from it," Spielman told me Monday by phone. "I always say Stefanie's death wasn't for nothing. It counts for something. It counts that other people can learn from our situation."

SpielmanStefanieThe one-hour Spielman profile is unlike previous episodes of "A Football Life." The prologue to his NFL career offers a more substantial story to tell.

"It's a different feeling than almost all of them," the show's producer, Digger O'Brien, said. "Stefanie didn't survive her cancer, but she in some ways beat it. Chris and all the friends and family we spoke to, that was their words: The Spielmans beat cancer, although they didn't outlast it."

Chris Spielman's attitude certainly is to be admired. He comes across as a Gary Cooper character. He didn't choose his mission, but he confronts it anyway.

"Chris is that reluctant warrior from the movies who would rather not get involved," O'Brien said, "but when he does get involved he cleans up the town and walks away without needing to be thanked. He just tips his hat and says, 'It's just my job.' "

Spielman also shared his family's story in "That's Why I'm Here," a book co-authored by Bruce Hooley that was released in the spring.

"You get used to it," Spielman said of his role as fundraiser and motivational speaker. "It's something that I've done for a while now, but I see the impact.

"I don't want this job. I don't think anybody does. But if I have it, I want to be the best at it."

Spielman's NFL Network profile goes back to his childhood and provides a terrific glimpse of a preternatural competitor.

Because he played for renowned powerhouse Massillon High, that part of his life provides plenty of material for the screen, including the time he won a national campaign to be the first prep athlete on a Wheaties box and footage of him overwhelming opponents -- even returning punts.

Among those interviewed were his brother, Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, OSU teammates Jeff Uhlenhake and Jim Lachey, Detroit Lions teammate Lomas Brown and Bills running back Thurman Thomas.

In a clip from 1998, Spielman sits at his Bills locker stall and explains why he's leaving the game:

"Her treatments go through January, and it's impossible for me to be in two places at one time. I would play in a heartbeat, but what kind of man would I be if I backed out on my word to her? I wouldn't be a man at all."

Although he was with the Bills when his wife's ordeal began, Spielman said he has fond memories of his time here.

"It was a great two years in how welcoming the fans were," Spielman said. "To play with all those guys was very rewarding for my career.

"I always think back to Stef and I going to a movie on Friday night and walking through the mall and seeing all the folks in their Buffalo Bills jerseys. I would think 'This is such a great place to play football, to be a football fan.' "

Spielman tried to make a comeback with the Cleveland Browns in 1999 but never played in a regular-season game and retired.

His career was decorated. He won the Lombardi Award, was a two-time All-American and got inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was selected to four Pro Bowls. He still holds unofficial tackling records for the Lions and Bills.

But his life changed forever when he discovered he couldn't dominate cancer like he did opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks.

"The fact that I couldn't stop it was so maddening and frustrating to me, being a competitor," Spielman says in his profile. "I couldn't outwork it, out-lift it, out-tough it, out-watch-film it, outhustle it. Couldn't do anything against it."

Sometimes, though, there's victory in putting up a valiant fight and making a mark that resonates after death.

"It will show people we took a bad situation and turned it into something positive," Spielman said Monday. "We always had hope -- hope through her initial diagnosis, hope through five recurrences and hope after death. You just keep going."

(Photo: Associated Press)

Chan Gailey concerned about Terrence McGee's recovery time

By Jay Skurski

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey expressed concern today over cornerback Terrence McGee, who missed practice as the Bills returned from their bye weekend.

McGee has now missed two straight practices since the team's game Oct. 21 against the Tennessee Titans. It's been a season-long struggle for the veteran cornerback in coming back from offseason surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon.

McGee played in a season-high 37 snaps against Arizona in Week Six, but managed just 15 against the Titans.

"He struggled to get back completely from that last game so we're giving him as much rest as we can possibly give him to see where he is," Gailey said.

The coach didn't disagree when told it sounded like he was concerned.

"There is [concern]," he said. "I mean, there is. If it takes longer and longer for a guy to come back every time, then it has to be a problem for him and for us. It's tough on him because I know what kind of competitor he is.

"He's worked so hard to get back. He wants to and the thing about him is he can't go half-speed. That's the thing about him, he can't go through the motions and then play hard on Sunday. He pushes himself in practice. So that's part of it."

Mario Williams absent, other injured Bills return to practice

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams wasn't in the field house during the portion of today's practice that was open to the media. Williams said earlier he will play Sunday against the Houston Texans but suggested that he wouldn't practice until Wednesday.

Also missing from practice were defensive end Mark Anderson (knee) and guard Chad Rinehart (ankle). Cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) was present but didn't participate.

Some notable Bills did take part.

Left guard Andy Levitre, who Bills coach Chan Gailey revealed underwent a procedure on an unspecified injury last week (I guess we'll learn what it is when the injury report comes out Wednesday), took part in drills. Left tackle Cordy Glenn, out the past three games with an ankle injury, had his helmet on but mostly watched.

Right guard Kraig Urbik was involved. He has missed three straight games with an ankle injury, but said this morning he will play Sunday "no matter what."

Tight end Mike Caussin worked out for the first time since last season because of a knee injury. He is on the reserve/unable-to-perform list. The Bills now have 21 days to decide whether to keep Caussin or put him on season-ending injured reserve.

Review video chat: Bills Replay with Skurski, Northrop

Kraig Urbik says he's coming back to help O-line for Houston

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills right guard Kraig Urbik declared he will return this week from an ankle injury that has sidelined him the past three games.

"I'm playing on Sunday no matter what," Urbik said today at his locker stall.

The Bills' offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and needs all the help it can muster for Sunday's game against the aggressive Houston Texans defense.

"Every game from here on out's important," Urbik said. "Sitting at 3-4, we can't lose too many more games and make the playoffs."

Left tackle Cordy Glenn also has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. His status for Sunday is uncertain.

Urbik's primary backup at right guard, Chad Rinehart, went down with an ankle injury in Week Seven against the Tennessee Titans. A bad hamstring sent third-string lineman Colin Brown, who filled in for Rinehart in Week Five against the San Francisco 49ers, to injured reserve.

Urbik practiced a little before the Titans game but wasn't quite ready to go.

"It felt fine walking, running straightforward, but as soon as I had to cut or something like that it felt pretty bad," Urbik said. "That's why I shut it down last week."

Mario Williams sounds thrilled with results of wrist surgery

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams said his left wrist already feels "way better" after having arthroscopic surgery last week and declared he will play against his former team Sunday.

"I'm not missing anything," Williams said. "This is to get better. This is to have healing occur, which wasn't happening before."

Williams spoke with reporters today for the first time since word surfaced he was having surgery. He said he decided to have surgery after consultation with the Bills' medical staff.

"I just had it cleaned up," Williams said. "From whenever I got injured earlier on in the year, a bunch of junk and stuff that was in there. That was the reason I couldn't have any motion."

The vague injury had been nagging him since the final preseason game even though it didn't appear on the injury report until a couple weeks ago. Williams revealed today the initial diagnosis was for full recovery in four to six weeks but that it never got better.

Williams explained he decided to have surgery during the Bills' bye week to "put me in a position to work out and use my hand more adequately. That was the biggest thing as far as me feeling comfortable."

He said the incision is the only discomfort he feels and that he will continue to wear a cast over the wrist.

The Bills signed Williams in March to a six-year contract worth as much as $100 million. He has blamed the wrist injury for production that hasn't matched the investment. Williams has 3.5 sacks this season, tying him for 38th in the NFL.

"I'm a hands-on person," Williams said. "Everything I do is with my hands. Not being able to do that, just mentally, has been frustrating. I felt like I was stagnant.

"This isn't me. I never had something where it lingered this long. It was either season-ending or it goes over in a week. It's been almost nine weeks now. It's been tough."

Williams will return to Reliant Stadium on Sunday to play the Houston Texans, who have done well without him. The Texans have the NFL's third-ranked defense. J.J. Watt leads the league with 9.5 sacks.

Chat wrap: Monday Morning QB with Tim Graham

Chris Mohr wins Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award

By Jay Skurski

The Monday Quarterback Club announced this week that former Bills punter Chris Mohr has been selected to receive the 27th annual Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award for the 2012 season. Mohr will be honored during pregame ceremonies at the Bills-Jacksonville game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Dec. 2 and at the Monday Quarterback Club luncheon at the Adams Mark Hotel the next day.

Mohr played in 160 regular-season games over his 10-year career in Buffalo, from 1991-2000. He was active in community service as a supporter and volunteer for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo.

Mohr signed as a free agent with the Bills in 1991 after playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He is the vice president of sales and product development for NVIROCLEAN Company and lives in Thompson, Ga. with his wife and four children.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award was established by the Monday Quarterback Club in 1986 to honor former players for long and meritorious service to the Bills. Mohr becomes the 32nd   former Bills player to be selected for the award over the past 27 years.

Fantasy Saturday: The best and worst matchups of Week Eight

By Jay Skurski

Fantasy owners don't have the Buffalo Bills to kick around any more. At least this week.

The Bills, on their bye today, have given up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs, the third most to QBs and the sixth most to receivers. Minus the Bills, here's a look at the best and worst matchups of Week Eight.

Against QBs, the friendliest defenses are New Orleans (21.0) and Tennessee (19.9). The Saints have a tough matchup against Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday night, while the Titans host rookie Andrew Luck and the Colts. Luck is a good sleeper option this week, while Manning is a no-brainer star.

The stingiest defenses against quarterbacks are Chicago (8.2), Arizona (9.0) and Seattle (10.0). The Bears host Cam Newton and the Panthers today, making for an interesting decision for fantasy owners (like myself). I'm starting Newton over Sam Bradford, but know I might regret it. Newton can be benched if you like your alternative. The Cardinals host Alex Smith and the 49ers on Monday night, while the Seahawks visit Matthew Stafford and the Lions today. Smith should sit, while Stafford is right at the cutoff of being starter worthy. Again, depending on your backup, he can sit this week.

Against running backs, the Saints (24.7) and Jaguars (23.0) follow the Bills (25.6) in most points allowed. Former Bill Willis McGahee is a No. 1 running back this week for Denver against the Saints, while Green Bay's Alex Green has good sleeper potential this week against the Jaguars. Green has received at least 20 carries each of the past two weeks.

The toughest defenses against opposing runners are Chicago (7.7), San Francisco (9.0) and Seattle (9.9). The Bears should have no trouble shutting down Carolina's Jonathan Stewart, ditto for the 49ers against the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling. Detroit's Mikel Leshoure is a No. 2 RB against the Seahawks.

Against wide receivers, the defenses that present the most favorable matchups are Washington (31.7), New Orleans (29.7) and Cleveland (29.0). The Steelers' Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown should see a nice boost in their value Sunday against the Redskins, as should Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker of the Broncos against New Orleans. All are solid plays. The Browns host the Chargers. San Diego's Malcom Floyd leads his team in targets, but has just one touchdown this season.

The toughest defenses for receivers are the Jets (13.4), 49ers (14.9) and Seahawks (15.6). New York hosts Miami, making any Dolphins receivers benchable. The Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and the Lions' Calvin Johnson are their teams' only receiving options against the 49ers and Seahawks, respectively.

Against tight ends, Tennessee (13.4), Washington (11.0) and the Jets (10.6) have given up the most points. Colts rookie Coby Fleener is a sleeper at tight end today against Tennessee, while the Steelers' Heath Miller has a great matchup against the Redskins. The Dolphins' Anthony Fasano could be used if you're desperate.

The toughest defenses for tight ends are Indianapolis (2.7), Arizona (4.1) and Jacksonville (4.3). The Titans' Jared Cook should sit, while San Francisco's Vernon Davis is a must start every week despite his tough matchup. Jermichael Finley of the Packers hasn't had a great season, but he's got a chance to put up some points in what should be a blowout win over Jacksonville.

Best of luck in Week Eight!

Update on Kevin Everett

By Jay Skurski

Is Kevin Everett fortunate?

That's the question posed to him by Dave Hyde of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, who interviewed the former Buffalo Bills tight end recently.

"Am I fortunate?" Everett asks Hyde. "You tell me. Am I?"

It's an eye-opening and sometimes sad update on Everett, who was paralyzed Sept. 9, 2007 in a head-on collision with the Denver Broncos' Domenik Hixon in a game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Everett lives outside Houston with his pregnant wife, Wiande, and their two daughters, Famatta, 3, and Faith, 2.

In the article, Everett talks about how he views football now, and how he deals with the daily struggle of the injuries he sustained that day.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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