CLEVELAND (AP) _ Chris Spielman had always learned life's lessons in the weight room and on the football field. Then his wife, Stefanie, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

After spending most of his adulthood knocking 250-pound fullbacks on their backsides, Spielman was confronted by an opponent he didn't know how to tackle.

So he quit playing last season for the Buffalo Bills to be with his family, and the Spielmans took on the disease the only way they knew how: head on.

Stefanie Spielman is now cancer free, and her husband is returning to football as a member of the Cleveland Browns.

``I learned what real courage is from her,'' Spielman said Tuesday. ``What real toughness is, and what unconditional love is. You don't know what stress is until you're waiting for a biopsy report. That's stress.''

The expansion Browns acquired the 33-year-old Spielman on Tuesday for past considerations. Spielman hasn't played a down in the NFL since 1997 following neck surgery and his one-season sabbatical to care for his family.

Skeptics are wondering what the former Pro Bowl linebacker might have left. Go ahead and wonder, Spielman warns.

``Some people might look at it as a gamble,'' he said. ``But anyone who has ever bet against me in football has lost. It's irrelevant what anybody else thinks.''

The Browns, who also signed free agent offensive tackle Orlando Brown and cornerback Corey Fuller on Tuesday, are banking on Spielman providing them with solid linebacking and leadership for the next three years.

``He is the kind of player any coach would want,'' said Browns coach Chris Palmer. ``He's a winner with an intense desire to excel''

Spielman's Ohio roots instantly make him the new Browns' star. He's played every snap as if it was his last throughout a career that began in Massillon, Ohio and continued at Ohio State. Stories of his workout regime as well as his pregame preparation rituals are already part of this state's football lore.

``It's great to be home,'' he said. ``I'm a Northeast Ohio guy. I'm about as Northeast Ohio as you can get. Steel mill or whatever you want to call it.''

Spielman, drafted in the second round by Detroit in 1988, played eight seasons and made four Pro Bowls for the Lions. He was signed as a free agent by the Bills in 1996.

``I seem to have a problem getting off Lake Erie,'' he said. ``From Detroit to Buffalo to Cleveland.''

Spielman was limited to just nine games in 1997 when his season was cut short by his neck injury. And then as he prepared to return, Stefanie got cancer.

For Spielman the decision to become a stay-at-home-daddy was an easy one.

``If I didn't do the things I did for my family last year I wouldn't be a man,'' he said. ``I did what was right.''

When Stefanie lost her hair during chemotherapy, Spielman shaved his head so she wouldn't feel alone. And to deal with the stress, Spielman would drive over to Ohio State from his home in Columbus to work out.

He thinks during the time off he was able to improve his speed and quickness, and thinks he's in better shape than when he left football. And as for his neck, and the pounding it will take, Spielman isn't worried.

``I'll never be the player I despise,'' he said. ``If I ever ducked a hit, I'd give my money back and walk off the field.''

Spielman said he hopes play out the three years remaining on the contract that transferred over from the Bills.

``I don't want to put limits on myself,'' said Spielman, who has coaching aspirations. ``I think I can fulfill my contract here at a high level but after that I don't know. I want to give them everything I can for three years.''

Brown, a 6-foot-7, 350-pound tackle nicknamed ``Zeus,'' will be the second former Browns player to return to Cleveland. Last week, the Browns used their final expansion draft pick to select cornerback Antonio Langham. Brown, who has reportedly signed a seven-year, $26 million deal, gives the Browns three young, quality offensive linemen. The 28-year-old will join guard Jim Pyne and center Dave Wohlabaugh, the former Patriot, who signed a seven-year, $26.25 million contract Saturday night.

``My name is Zeus,'' said Brown, who first came to the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 1993. ``I'm ready to play ball, bang some heads and get some Ws (wins). I'm glad to be back. I missed the Dawg Pound.''