Three years since former owner Art Modell uprooted his franchise to Baltimore, the Cleveland Browns played their first game in their new stadium Saturday night. In Lavelli's words, "Its a rejuvenation for me, it's a second birth."
For some townspeople, the years without a pro-football team seemed like a lifetime. But for one player whose lifework is the game, a return after almost two years away from football is a story of courage even beyond his comeback.
The comeback from what Browns linebacker Chris Spielman calls a fight between "life and death" is not his own, but his wife's. And when Stephanie Spielman underwent breast cancer surgery just over a year ago, her husband decided to take last season off to care for her and their two children. Stephanie says, "I couldn't have done it without him. It was the best decision he ever could have made for me and our family."
For Chris, even a career-threatening neck injury was nothing compared to his wife's cancer crisis. "So we chose to fight man, you have two choices either fight or fold, and at my house we're fighting," he explains.
When chemotherapy caused Stephanie's hair to disappear, her husband shaved his head and started a cancer fund. According to Stephanie, "We've raised almost $500,000 to that fund now, and that's gonna be a lifetime goal for us, to raise money for research."
Chris is relieved doctors say his wife is now cancer-free. But he knows both his game and life have no guarantees. "I just feel blessed that God gave me another chance to play football, and he gave my wife life," he says. "We don't take anything for granted we, just live each day."
In grainy old photos spanning decades, Cleveland has tracked its football history and legends. And while Chris Spielman could someday be added to that list of heroes, he already is - where it matters most.