Not Enough Room at Top for Redden

And so it was that Barry Redden finally got his wish to be released from a football-and-chain known as the Los Angeles Rams, a team that all but had him bound and shackled to a sideline bench for most of five seasons.

The way Redden saw it, the Rams might as well have been performing Chinese water torture on the running back. Forget the sunshine, the divisional championships, the owner's kisses, the friendships, the future.

Redden wanted out so badly that he rejoiced this week after being traded from a team seemingly going everywhere to the San Diego Chargers, a defenseless team perhaps headed even further south in the standings.

Yet Redden made it clear that he would almost rather play for the Ayatollah than for John Robinson, even though the coach has all but promised a world championship in the next five years.

So what was it with Redden, anyway? Why didn't he want to hang around and share in the fun? Was it something we said? Wasn't it the Rams who changed their offense last season to make Redden a starting fullback after he complained that he was tired of tripping on Eric Dickerson's shadow?

And wasn't it Redden himself who responded with his best season ever, rushing for 467 yards on 110 carries? Wasn't this the same guy who caught 28 passes for 217 yards?

Wasn't that good enough? Didn't the Rams even offer the key to the executive washroom? Didn't they bring in quarterback Jim Everett and award-winning offensive choreographer Ernie Zampese from the Chargers in an effort to make the offense even better?

Figuring out Barry Redden was never easy. In his five years as a Ram, he was branded as a loner, forever mysterious and brooding. Yet no one could ever remember him saying a bad word to anyone.

He had demanded to be traded as far back as 1985, yet no one can ever remember Barry Redden missing a practice, back-talking a coach or failing to run a pass pattern to its completion.

Redden was bitter, but it never stopped him from being better. Silence, as is often the case, was interpreted in Redden's case as being inherently evil.

For this reason, many will wish to remember Redden as being selfish, uncompromising and thick-headed. No one in his right mind would want to leave the Rams. Not now. Not when they're so close to the Super Bowl.

His desire to leave the Rams for something worse might be like former Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth calling a news conference to announce that he will play only for the four or five poorest teams in the NFL.

On the surface, Redden's reasoning doesn't make sense.

But Redden cannot be dismissed as just another ungrateful athlete. His character, defined not through interviews but over time, had few holes in which to inflict venom.

Because of that, it is perhaps easier to understand Redden's frustration.

He came to the Rams from the University of Richmond as a No. 1 draft pick in 1982, a tailback of uncanny speed and strength. A knee injury wrecked his rookie season, but he was nevertheless considered the team's running back of the future.

But 1983 turned out to be future shock for Redden when the Rams drafted Eric Dickerson, an athlete of rare skill and gifts, a player who will be remembered by future generations.

Redden was the brilliant comet in the sky who had suddenly looked over one day to see something named Halley's.

It was impossible not to recognize Dickerson's skill as a running back, or even the team's wish to isolate him in the backfield.

But so is it easy to understand in retrospect how Redden must have felt. A ruby standing alone can be stunning, but how does it compare next to a diamond? That was Redden and Dickerson.

Instead of making a mark of his own, Redden was forced to watch his career being played out through another. In college, it was Redden who carried the ball 25 or 30 times a game. It was Redden who once gained 280 yards on 51 carries in a game.

It was of little consolation that the Rams finally moved Redden into the starting lineup last season as a fullback. In his mind, it was the same as studying years to become a lawyer, only to end up sorting legal briefs.

Redden never saw himself as anything less than a star.

Once, he walked into a store in his hometown in Sarasota, Fla., and was asked by a grocery clerk how it felt to be Dickerson's backup.

Redden answered abruptly. "I told her that I've never felt like a backup," he said. "I told her that I just have to live with the facts."

Well, Redden has to live with the facts no longer. The Rams, who had long been looking for a No. 1 draft choice in return for Redden, settled instead for running back Buford McGee and two 1988 draft choices--a second-round and a conditional middle-round pick.

Only 26, Redden still feels there's time to salvage a career, perhaps even carve out a place and a name of his own. No longer will he have to run in someone else's shadow.

And although it's true that Barry Redden rarely said a word, you get the feeling that the Rams are going to miss him. It's too bad there wasn't enough room at the top.

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