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In this year marking the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, Redskins fans have a special reason to thank Napoleon. No, not for giving a name to the complex afflicting the team’s owner. For pulling the trigger on the mother of all real-estate deals, the one that brought Patrick Ramsey’s home state into the union.
In April 1803, President Thomas Jefferson got more than 2 million square miles of land from France’s emperor for 60 million francs, which at the time translated to about $15 million. Jefferson had asked only for New Orleans, but Napoleon threw in everything from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border.
“Let the land rejoice, for you have bought Louisiana for a song,” General Horatio Gates, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, is said to have told Jefferson at the closing.
Ramsey might now be playing pétanque had France not given away the farm. But because Napoleon sold Louisiana to the country that made football its national pastime, another little guy who thinks big, Dan Snyder, was able to bring Ramsey here. The Redskins originally were scheduled to take the 18th pick in last year’s draft, but Snyder made trades with Oakland and New England and still was able to get Ramsey, a native of Ruston, La., with the 32nd and final pick of the first round.
After a 17-day holdout, threats of a trade to the Chicago Bears, and Danny Wuerffel’s big game in Osaka, Snyder was able to get Ramsey to sign for five years for $5.7 million, including a $3.1 million signing bonus. Ramsey’s base salary is less than $300,000 this season.
With every fall Sunday that passes, the wheeling and dealing that landed Ramsey in a Redskins uniform makes Snyder seem more Jeffersonian. By NFL standards, he was bought for a song. And not since Troy Aikman first came into the league has a QB taken such a beating so early in his career and still looked so good.
But when one looks at Ramsey’s pedigree as a horseplayer would, the quality of his play makes at least a little sense. Turns out that Louisiana is to quarterbacks what Kentucky is to thoroughbreds.
Pennsylvania gets all the acclaim from football historians as the birthplace of QBs, and not without reason. Among those hailing from the Keystone State: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, and Gus Frerotte (given the game Gus had last weekend for Minnesota four touchdown passes, QB rating of 157.2we’d better include him).
But Ramsey’s turf, without any real fanfare, has been producing star quarterbacks at a far higher per capita rate than Pennsylvania: The U.S. Census tells us Pennsylvania is the sixth biggest state by population, while Louisiana is 24th.
Louisiana’s role as an NFL QB factory goes back at least as far as Y.A. Tittle. The 1948 LSU grad quarterbacked the Giants to three NFL titles and was named player of the year three times. Terry Bradshaw went to Woodlawn High School in Shreveport and Louisiana Tech before becoming a four-time Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bert Jones may have been a two-time All-Pro and the NFL’s MVP in 1976 while playing for the Colts, but back home he’s still remembered as “the Ruston Rifle.” Joe Ferguson, also from Woodlawn, threw for nearly 30,000 yards in 18 NFL seasons, most of them with the Buffalo Bills. And there’s James Harris of Monroe, a Grambling alum and the first black quarterback to make the Pro Bowl. Ex-Dolphin David Woodley, who quarterbacked the Dolphins against the Skins in the 1983 Super Bowl, USFL champ and former New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons QB Bobby Hebert, and perennial Super Bowl backup Bubby Brister were also reared in Louisiana.
In recent years, the state’s QB exporting pace has gotten ridiculous. Peyton Manning, the Colts’ perennial Pro Bowler, went to Isidore Newman High School outside New Orleans (and just threw for six touchdowns in the city, in a Sunday-night game against the Saints). His brother, Mississippi’s Eli Manning, went into this season as a Heisman favorite. The top high-school passer in the country last season was John David Booty, now a much-ballyhooed freshman at Southern Cal. The leading NCAA passer as of last weekend’s game was Tulane’s J.P. Losman, who runs an offense that has averaged more than 35 points a game.
Snyder isn’t the first Redskin boss to tap into Louisiana’s quarterback magic. California-born Billy Kilmer was a single-wing tailback at UCLA and stayed a running back in his early years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. But after an auto accident, the Niners let him go to the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967, and, displaying a “When in Rome…” attitude, Kilmer became a full-time QB while playing for the Saints in old Tulane Stadium. George Allen traded for him in 1971, and a year after arriving in D.C., Kilmer beat out local hero Sonny Jurgensen and led the Redskins to their first Super Bowl. Doug Williams, who came to Washington from the USFL, grew up in Zachary, La., and played at Grambling, where he was a two-time All-American. He’s head coach of Grambling now, but around here, he’ll never outshine the day he threw for four TDs and won the MVP of Super Bowl XXII. Stan Humphries grew up in Shreveport and is an alum of Northeast Louisiana University (now Louisiana-Monroe). The Skins’ sixth-round pick in 1988 seemed headed for stardom in burgundy and gold before finding himself in coach Joe Gibbs’ doghouse. He took the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl after a 1992 trade.
For all the youngster’s breeding, Ramsey was a risky pick for Snyder. The last time the Redskins used a first-round pick on a quarterback came in 1994, when the team took Heath Shuler, who grew up in North Carolina. Shuler, who signed a $19 million contract with the Redskins, was a legendary flop in Washington. He’s out of football now, making his living selling real estate. Perhaps better than anybody, he can appreciate how badly both Ramsey and Napoleon got screwed. Dave McKenna