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Cardinal connection

Redman follows Unitas on Louisville-Baltimore path

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Posted: Sunday April 16, 2000 08:35 PM

  Chris Redman Chris Redman has followed Louisville legend Johnny Unitas to Baltimore as well. Andy Lyons/Allsport

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- As local sponsorships go, Chris Redman has a dandy one already lined up and waiting in Baltimore. With solid name recognition to boot.

Could there be anything better than being a quarterback in Baltimore with Johnny Unitas in your corner?

Almost five decades after an NFL team in Baltimore featured a young quarterback who had starred at the University of Louisville, history has repeated itself. The Ravens saw to that late Saturday night, when the selected the tumbling Redman in the third round, 75th overall.

Redman, the third quarterback taken in the draft, probably won't turn out to be another Unitas, the Hall of Fame passer who led the Baltimore Colts to their glory days of the 1950s and '60s. But he did win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award last season at Johnny U. U, throwing for 3,647 yards and 29 touchdowns for Louisville.

And none other than Unitas himself spent time this spring lobbying his hometown Ravens to give Redman a look.

"Oh, I know he was [lobbying for me]," Redman said Sunday, in a teleconference call interview. "He's a great guy and he really got to see me play in a lot more games than most people have. I think he sees a lot of himself in me as far as toughness, because he was one of the toughest players ever.

"With me growing up here [in Louisville], he's kind of a legendary man. I got a chance to meet him for the first time in high school, and then through college with him coming to my games. He really helped me out a lot. It's special to have a guy like that in your corner. I'm sure it helped."

It didn't hurt. Ravens coach Brian Billick, ever perceptive when it comes to local public relations, personally informed Unitas of the pick Saturday night.

"Johnny's a huge fan [of Redman's]," Billick said. "He really liked the kid, for a lot of obvious reasons. I know he'll enjoy this. There's just a nice tie-in."

That Redman wound up in Baltimore's laps is another indication of the unpredictability of NFL draft weekend. Projected as a likely top 20 pick after his junior season, in which he threw for 4,042 yards and 29 touchdowns, Redman this year slipped down into the range of the second or high third round, despite it being a quarterback-poor draft.

The Ravens claimed this weekend that they never dreamed Redman would still be available at No. 75, and undoubtedly would have taken him 45th overall in the second round, had they not swapped that pick to Denver last week in order to move up from No. 15 to No. 10 in the first round.

And Billick went even further, saying Baltimore would have considered Redman at 27th, had they accepted the New York Jets' Friday offer of the No. 18 and No. 27 picks in exchange for the Ravens' No. 5 selection.

Baltimore actually put the kibosh on discussions of trade-back scenarios with several teams once Redman remained on the board as their third-round pick approached. Baltimore was looking to acquire an extra fourth-round selection in exchange for their third-rounder.

"We had two or three deals set up there probably would have been a deal," Billick said. "Then all of a sudden it was, 'Whoa, whoa, everybody stop a second. He may make it here.' It was an absolute slam dunk. At that point, [Ravens vice president of player personnel] Ozzie [Newsome] just picked up the phone and speed dialed, saying, 'Nope, sorry we've got our guy, we've got our guy, we've got our guy.'"

Said Newsome: "Some of this is luck. There's not a whole lot of skill involved. It's luck."

According to Billick, the level of delighted surprise in the Ravens' war room was sky high.

"I was in the draft room when we drafted Joe Montana and there wasn't that kind of reaction," said Billick, who was an assistant public relations director for the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, when coach Bill Walsh selected Montana in the third round out of Notre Dame.

Ironically, San Francisco and Walsh were seen as the most likely team to take Redman, perhaps in the second round. But the 49ers, desperate for defense, became wary of Redman in recent months, saying they believed he was too immobile and took far too much pounding in his four seasons at Louisville, and that a cervical disk injury he suffered as a sophomore had potential long-term ramifications.

"I didn't have a real good feeling about that when I visited out there," Redman said of his chances with the 49ers. "I think they had something against me. I had a neck injury and I think they were scared about that. I think I'm probably in a better situation now."

Whereas the 49ers looked at Redman and saw potential injury, the Ravens talked up his toughness, with Billick likening his game to a young Phil Simms.

"That's kind of what this kid is," Billick said. "He doesn't have the huge arm, but the whole's greater than the sum of his parts... . This kid took a hell of a beating. He's a tough kid. He has a great pocket sense. He's a guy who will sit there and he'll say, 'I've got to wait a half second for this to happen, and at a half-second point one, I'm going to get my [butt] knocked off.' And he still does it. He waits and sees and he makes the throw."

The son of a 27-year veteran of high school football coaching, Redman refused to mope about the potential earnings he lost in this weekend's draft. Saying a player should have to go out there and earn their money rather than having it most of it paid up front in the form of a signing bonus, Redman said Baltimore was the fit he was hoping for.

With the Ravens, Redman will almost certainly replace the limited Stoney Case as the team's No. 3 quarterback, behind starter Tony Banks and newly signed backup Trent Dilfer. But with Dilfer only signed to a one-year, $1 million deal, Redman could climb a notch as early as 2001.

"It's a team I had a really good feeling about through the whole draft," Redman said. "It's basically the team I really wanted to go to."

When the Ravens traded their second-round pick to Denver last week, Redman thought his best shot to follow in Unitas' high tops was gone.

"I thought that was my last chance, but in the draft you never know what's going to happen," Redman said. "I really got lucky and slipped down there."

Lucky? To slip through the second round into the third, costing himself thousands? Redman is something of a throwback indeed.

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