Chin up, Redman enters Ravens' fray

Pro football: Chris Redman learned how to take a hit as a star quarterback in his native Louisville. He hopes resilience will help him succeed as the Ravens' new starter.

April 26, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

NEAR DONALDSON CREEK, Ky. - Even here, Chris Redman can't escape his new life.

Redman has built a cabin by the lake, in an aw-shucks southern Kentucky hideaway that isn't named on any maps. There should be no one or nothing to remind him he has been named the Ravens' new starting quarterback.

His home is situated on 2 1/2 acres at the end of a windy, gravel road. Redman's neighbors are a couple of coyotes and "Bikini Bob," who rides around on his lawn mower wearing nothing but a leopard-print Speedo. The local buzz isn't about the resident pro athlete, but whether Teddy Birdsong can win the election for jailer.

The everyday routine here doesn't include carrying a football around, and the only purple within a 20-mile radius is on the bottom of his boat.

But on a recent day, Redman was taking a break from fishing for dinner and flipped on his television - ah, the wonders of a satellite dish - to see tight end Shannon Sharpe announcing he had signed with the Denver Broncos. Just like that, the Ravens had officially lost their mouthpiece, and Redman became the team's offensive leader.

And yet he couldn't feel more at home.

"I'm a lot more comfortable being a leader, stepping up there and taking control," said Redman, looking out at the picture-perfect view of the lake while kicking back on his front porch.

"I'm kind of looking forward to getting back to that. But you have to earn that respect."

That role will start to take shape for the blue-collar guy from the Bluegrass State today, when he takes his first steps as the Ravens' starter at the team's three-day minicamp.

Redman, 24, doesn't have the typical quarterback pedigree, coming from two generations of offensive linemen. Congratulations mean head butts instead of handshakes. And bone-jarring blocks are applauded as much as 40-yard scoring passes.

Appearances can be deceiving with Redman. Look closely at the chin of his baby face, and it's apparent he racked up as many stitches over his college career as touchdown throws. The scars are a result of constantly waiting until the last second to make throws despite taking hit after hit.

That gritty nature is combined with a southern, down-to-earth charm.

Redman lives in Louisville in the off-season and drives three hours to spend his weekends here - on Lake Barkley, just west of Cadiz, a town of fewer than 3,000 - either hunting or fishing with his dad and dog. Whatever he kills and mounts, he names. Walk around the new, 2,400-square-foot cabin that he helped design, and he'll introduce you to Tyrone the turkey and Danny the deer.

He is Huck Finn in a football jersey, unchanged by his high-profile status, as simple and refreshing as the boy who grew up a football coach's son in Louisville. He still dates his high school sweetheart, Ashley Britt, and still falls asleep on his couch watching fishing shows. His biggest secret is that he dips his bait in garlic.

Those hobbies - coupled with the bright-red sunburns on the back of his neck - led many veterans to call him "Redneck" during his rookie season.

But that nickname has been tweaked. In the final preseason game last year, Redman, 6 feet 3, 223 pounds, delivered one of the season's most memorable blocks, flooring New York Giants safety Dwayne Patmon to spring Jason Brookins to the outside. Nowadays, his teammates tend to call him "Redwood."

Besides his tenacity, the Ravens don't know what to expect out of Redman, the team's third-round pick of the 2000 draft.

Redman has been third string the past two years and hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since Sept. 24, 2000. He was promoted to starter last month when the team released Elvis Grbac after a pay-cut dispute, leaving Redman as the only quarterback on the roster.

But the Ravens envision him as the key to their youth movement and a welcome change from Grbac, who gained a reputation around the league as being soft.

"He kind of brings that toughness you get from [ex-Ravens quarterback] Trent Dilfer," Ravens receiver Brandon Stokley said. "He's going to do whatever it takes to win. That's what you want from your quarterback."

Accidental quarterback

Capitalizing on another player's misfortune isn't new for Redman. He wouldn't be playing quarterback otherwise.

Redman's size forced him to play offensive and defensive line in grade school and most of middle school. His big break came in the eighth grade, when the starting quarterback got injured, Redman stepped in, and the rest is legend around Louisville.

"Once he got his opportunity," said his father, Bob Redman, "it was never any other way."

Redman led his team to the eighth-grade city championship, where he broke his right hand in the first quarter. Using his left hand to take snaps and make handoffs, he refused to leave the game.

He wound up throwing the winning, 10-yard touchdown pass with a hand so swollen that it was hard to see the knuckles. After the game, he was taken to the hospital, where doctors had to anesthetize him to set the hand back into place.

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