At long last, Chris Redman can stretch out and relax. He finally has his home state to himself.
The University of Louisville quarterback can limber up his golden right arm each week without having to compete with that guy in the No. 2 jersey--Tim Couch, the walking icon who siphoned off all the attention and adulation during his time with the Wildcats.
This year, Redman is the guy.
The all-American hype? It's his.
The Heisman Trophy campaign? All about him.
The first-round draft speculation? Centered on No. 7, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who is regarded by most NFL scouts as one of the top overall prospects for 2000.
"I think I have been overshadowed a little bit," Redman admitted, after some prodding. "But with a guy like Tim and all he's accomplished, I can understand. But I'm looking forward to having people talking about me and putting my name up there on 'SportsCenter.' "
He put his name up there on the season's opening weekend against Couch's former team, completing 30 of 40 passes for 324 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions as the Cardinals routed Kentucky, 56-28. And this past weekend, he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass on a fourth down and 13 with six seconds to play to give Louisville a 32-31 victory over Memphis, which entered the game ranked 13th in the nation in total defense and led 31-19 with less than 4 1/2 minutes to play.
For the season, Redman is 211 of 311 for 2,314 yards, 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. And for his career, he has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 11,208 yards, ninth in NCAA history and third in Division I-A history, 217 behind San Diego State's Todd Santos (Brigham Young's Ty Detmer holds the I-A and all-division mark of 15,031 yards).
But Couch remains Kentucky's Appalachian folk hero, the NFL's latest No. 1 pick and the Cleveland Browns' appointed savior. He's the $48 million man whose mythical exploits since roughly puberty have detracted from the similarly excellent career of Redman.
There aren't many guys who can throw for 4,000 yards and finish No. 2 in the nation in total offense at 400.6 yards per game as Redman did in 1998, and still be the "other" quarterback in his backyard.
As a senior, Redman won a state title playing for his father, Bob, at Louisville's Male High School and was Parade magazine's national player of the year. But by then Couch, a junior at Leslie County High School, already had major-college recruiters navigating the narrow roads through the Eastern Kentucky mountains to see him play. When Couch became the nation's most prolific high school passer ever as a senior, then turned down every powerhouse in the country to stay home, his icon status was solidified.
Redman could only blink in the reflected glare of the spotlight and scratch his head.
"I've enjoyed staying home," he said. "That was a big thing for Tim and sometimes people kind of forget I stayed home too when I had a chance to go to the Florida States, the Michigans, Tennessees--places that won national championships."
That's true, but Louisville wasn't Redman's first choice.
He originally signed with Illinois, but was released from his letter-of-intent when then-coach Lou Tepper fired offensive coordinator Greg Landry--the man who recruited Redman. He was headed for Oklahoma to join the former Louisville coach Howard Schnellenberger before a bout of homesickness convinced him to become a Cardinal.
A third-generation Cardinal, in fact. Bob Redman played for Lee Corso and grandfather Lloyd "Pappy" Redman was a letterman in 1946. Pappy is a constant presence at Louisville practices, parking a folding chair just off the playing field.
Pappy Redman is a tough old coot who missed only a week of spring practice after suffering a heart attack last April. Chris seems to have inherited his toughness.
In eighth grade, Redman broke his hand in two places in the first half of the city championship. By the second half the hand had swelled dramatically, but he refused to leave the game. With 17 seconds left, Redman threw the winning touchdown to his number one receiver in grade school, high school and now at Louisville, all-American tight end Ibn Green.
"That's where the combination started," Redman said.
"Red and Green, that's what they called us," Green said.
A common sight during the bad old days--Redman's sophomore season, when the Cardinals went 1-10 in the final season under coach Ron Cooper--was No. 7 stoically being treated by trainers. More often than not, he walked off the field with blood spattered on the chest of his jersey.
Even last season, when Redman spent less time on his back than ever before in his college career, he took 26 stitches in the chin.
"He's as tough a quarterback as I've seen," Memphis Coach Rip Scherer said. "We knocked him around and he gets knocked around week in and week out, and he just gets back up like Rocky Balboa.
"His toughness is the quality that separates him from the rest and we've seen some of the best during the last couple of years. We've seen [Peyton] Manning, we've seen Couch on film. He's as tough at any of them."
But are toughness and big numbers enough to win the Heisman? Probably not, according to the only Kentuckian ever to do so, Paul Hornung.
"He's a standout, but I don't think he can win the Heisman," Hornung, who won it in 1955 on a Notre Dame team that went 2-8, said before this season began. "I wish he could, but there's no way with that schedule. Throwing against Alabama-Birmingham or teams like that, and you've got all those other kids playing against Michigan and Tennessee, there's just no way."
Redman's chances have been further hampered by Louisville's 4-3 record, which includes losses to Illinois, Oklahoma and Army.
But just being invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York as a finalist--as Couch was last year--would be no small accomplishment for a kid from a school well off the beaten path of powerhouses.
"I could see myself in New York for the presentation," Redman said before the season began. "That's a goal of mine, to make it to New York and have the opportunity to win. That's a kid's dream."