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Even by football standards, where entire careers often are measured in single digits, Chris Spielman's tenure with the Buffalo Bills was brief. But in less than two full years of playing, Spielman won the affection and respect of football fans here with a single-minded passion that was reminiscent of another era and simpler times.

After 10 years with the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills, Spielman announced his retirement Monday after suffering a neck injury. He was attempting a comeback with the Cleveland Browns, after suffering an earlier neck injury with the Bills in 1997 and then sitting out the 1998 season to be with his wife as she battled cancer.

Words like warrior are used loosely in football. But the word didn't just fit Spielman, it epitomized him. His toughness in a tough sport was extraordinary. While playing with the Lions, he led the team in tackles one season despite playing with a torn pectoral muscle.

It's easy to see Spielman playing in a time when players needed to work in the off-season to put food on the table. He is a throwback to the Sam Huffs and Ray Nitschkes, linebackers who made running backs -- the swaggering marquee stars of the sport -- just a bit less brash and a bit more fearful as they crossed into enemy territory.

Spielman was special. And not just because he went to four Pro Bowls, made more than 1,400 career tackles or set the Bills single-season record for tackles with 206. He was distinctive because of the purity of his motives. He loved the game and played like it.

Players like Spielman don't come around too often. It's exhilarating to watch them when they do, and sad to look on as they leave.

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