Chris Spielman's wife, Stefanie, was never impressed by all the honors her husband received for being a star linebacker at Ohio State and in the NFL.
The only one that ever got her excited was when she found out in the spring that her husband had been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
"There was such a genuine smile on her face and pure joy that she'd gotten out of this, because she understood what my passion for college football is. It's amazing," Spielman said Tuesday.
Stefanie Spielman died Nov. 19 at age 42 after a long battle with breast cancer, a few weeks before Chris was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"I have no doubt she's smiling down on us today, and I take great solace and joy in that," Spielman said during a news conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.
Spielman was one of a group of 16 players and two coaches to be inducted at the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame's awards banquet Tuesday night.
Among the others were Heisman Trophy winners Gino Torretta of Miami and Tim Brown of Notre Dame and coaches Dick MacPherson and John Robinson.
Spielman was an All-American linebacker for the Buckeyes, finishing his career in 1987 as the school's career leader in tackles, a record he still holds.
He played 11 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Detroit Lions, and made the Pro Bowl six times. He took a year off in 1998 to spend more time with his family as Stefanie dealt with cancer. She was 30 years old and pregnant when she was diagnosed.
He's been working as a college football game analyst for ESPN since 2001.
The day after Stefanie Spielman died, Chris and his four children, ages 7-15, watched a video she had made for them in anticipation of her death. Chris said her message was: "'I don't want any of you ever to use my death as an excuse for anything, but motivation for everything.' That helped me and that helped our kids.
"Considering the circumstances, I'm doing pretty well."
Chris Spielman said he met Stefanie in 1982. He was 17 and she was 15. "She was my only girlfriend," he said.
Spielman said his wife kept him humble and grounded. "That was one of the blessings of our marriage," he said.
Spielman returned to work for ESPN just a few days after Stefanie's "celebration of life funeral."
"My kids were asking to get back to our new normal and that's what we did," he said.
Spielman is the 22nd Ohio State player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The others in the latest class were: halfback Pervis Atkins of New Mexico State (1959-60); defensive back Chuck Cecil of Arizona (1984-87); fullback Ed Dyas of Auburn (1958-60); quarterback Major Harris of West Virginia (1987-89); tight end Gordon Hudson of BYU (1980-83); center William Lewis of Harvard (1892-93); linebacker Woodrow Lowe of Alabama (1972-75); wide receiver Ken Margerum of Stanford (1977-80); defensive lineman Steve McMichael of Texas (1976-79); linebacker Larry Station of Iowa (1982-85); defensive end Pat Swilling of Georgia Tech (1982-85); running back Curt Warner of Penn State (1979-82); and defensive end Grant Wistrom of Nebraska (1994-97).
Dyas, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1960, said he figured after all these years he had no shot at making the Hall of Fame. He was shocked when he received a package in the mail from the NFF that included a football and notice of his induction.
"This is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," he said.
Also at the banquet, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to the top senior scholar-athlete in college football. He received $25,000 postgraduate scholarship money.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy also was one of the 16 finalists from all divisions of college football. The others were: Illinois offensive lineman Jon Asamoah; BYU linebacker Matt Bauman; Minnesota receiver Eric Decker; Fresno State safety Moses Harris; Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller; Brown tackle Paul Jasinowski; Morningside College receiver Beau Kildow; Northern Iowa linebacker Josh Mahoney; Tusculum tight end Jarrell NeSmith; Baylor linebacker Joe Pawelek; Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing; Hardin-Simmons receiver ZaVious Robbins; Augustana College tackle Blaine Westemeyer; and West Virginia linebacker Reed Williams.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.