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JWC: Spielman issues challenge to Team USA players

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JWC: Spielman issues challenge to Team USA players



By Todd Porter

CantonRep.com staff writer

Posted Jun 23, 2009 @ 11:47 PM



If Team USA didn’t quite understand the challenge that’s ahead of it during the Junior World Championship that begins Saturday, it was made crystal clear to them Tuesday night. In a quaint conference room on Walsh University’s campus, Chris Spielman went Colonel Jessup on the young lads.


Spielman, the poster boy for Ohio’s rugged version of football, snapped Team USA’s attention back to the competition on the field. Sportsmanship is one thing, but the United States’ ownership of football is, Spielman said, at stake on American soil.


If the U.S. players aren’t up for taking the challenge seriously, Spielman had a message for them.


“You’re representing your country, and if that does not do something to you, get your ass out of here and go back home,” Spielman said, the silence from the players deafening. “If you’re here to go through the motions, then go home. But if you’re here to make a statement about football, how important it is ... then accept the responsibility of being the favorites and kick everyone’s rear end back to whatever country they came from.


“The weak in football get eliminated.”


Team USA is made up of players from across the country, most of them attending college this fall as prized recruits. The U.S. is the favorite in the eight-team tournament.


“I don’t know much about seniors in France, Sweden, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, or whatever countries I missed. I do know this is our game,” Spielman said. “We invented the game and they’re on our soil. ... You have to represent Team USA, and there’s a lot of pressure.”


Spielman’s talk was delivered to the 45 players that make up Head Coach Chuck Kyle’s team in the JWC. He was so serious and passionate that, at one point, Spielman admonished a U.S. player for texting a picture back to his father while Spielman was speaking.


“Are you texting while I’m talking young man? I appreciate if you don’t do that. I drove two hours here not to have someone texting while I’m talking,” Spielman said.


Needless to say, the cell phone was put away.


“I hope they get it,” Spielman said afterward. “I think they do, seeing the look in their eyes. I think they get what they’re up against, especially since Canada is the first seed. Who decided that? The prime minister?”


It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the U.S. being the No. 2 seed. Canada received the No. 1 seed by virtue of winning the last junior football competition. This is the initial U.S. entry into junior international football.


In December, Spielman will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He played 10 seasons in the NFL with the Lions and Bills and was a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker.


“I wish I would’ve had that. I envy them,” Spielman said. “I’m 42 years old. I had a pretty good NFL career. I had a pretty decent college career. To be honest with you, if I could give it all back to be there with you for this one shining moment, I’d give it back in a heart beat.


“You have a chance to make an international statement that nobody will come and be like the Americans beating the Russians (in the 1980 Olympics). ... You’re having an international competition with our game. I could understand if it was the other football, skiing, hockey or sumo wrestling, but not our game.”


Spielman’s entire speech was devoted to challenging Team USA to understand and accept its challenge. His NFL career, for the most part, ended in 1997. In the fourth quarter of a regular-season game against the Colts, Spielman tackled running back Lamont Warren.


“I hit Lamont Warren as hard as I hit any human being in my life,” Spielman said. “I heard sounds and grunts come out of him that would make a soccer crowd in France go, ‘Ewww.’ I go to get up, and there’s one problem. I can’t get up because I can’t feel anything in my body.”


Spielman punctured a disc in his neck that hit his spinal cord. Two years after neck surgery, he attempted a comeback with the Browns but never made it out of preseason.


“As I laid in that hospital bed to get surgery on my neck, something came to me,” Spielman said. “What came to me was the definition of who I was as a person. I learned what my mission was, and it was to serve God, serve my family, serve my community, and serve my teammates in that order.


“If you keep in mind what you give will grow and what you keep you’ll lose, then you will accomplish great things. ... If you give it all to the game, it will grow around you.”


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