29. Chris Spielman
Middle Linebacker. 1988-95 Detroit; 1996-97 Buffalo Bills; 1999 Cleveland Browns
One of the most popular Lions in team history, Chris Spielman was drafted by Detroit in the second-round of the 1988 draft. He immediately became a starter as a rookie, and led the team in tackles with 153 (118 solo, 35 assists). He would go on to lead the Lions in that category in each of his eight seasons in Detroit. A textbook tackler, Chris was rarely fooled by a ball-carrier. He remains the Lions’ all-time leader in tackles with 1,138. Chris’ most productive season came in 1994, when he amassed 195 stops.
Many thought that the former All-American linebacker at Ohio State was too small and slow to be a quality NFL linebacker. However the 6-foot, 247 pound Spielman proved the naysayers wrong, not only by his sheer numbers, but by a tireless work ethic. He was a student of the game, spending countless hours studying film to memorize his opponents’ tendencies, tip-offs and weaknesses. Often, Chris would snuff out a play before it even began. Lion fans often recall Spielman knifing into the backfield to stuff a running back, or breaking up a pass at the last second because of his uncanny nose for the ball.
Spielman was named All-Pro after the 1992 and ‘94 seasons, and went to four Pro Bowls (1990-92, 1995). He was also a two-time winner of the Lions’ Lem Barney Defensive MVP Award (1993-94). Spielman went onto play for the Buffalo Bills in 1996, and led them in tackles his first year. A serious neck injury forced him to miss the last half of the Bills’ 1997 campaign. Speilman spent 1998 away from football while taking care of his children, and caring for his cancer stricken wife Stefanie (who passed away in 2009). He returned to the gridiron with the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999, but the return of neck problems in preseason forced him to walk away from the playing field for a final time. Chris and his children still battle cancer in honor of Stefanie. To date, the foundation they started together, The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research, has raised more than $10 million in that fight.