CINCINNATI (AP) -The Browns were on the phone, which meant that Chinedum Ndukwe was about to have another one of those serendipitous moments that keeps him linked with his best friend.
The Notre Dame safety was going to get the chance to join Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn - a buddy from their high school days - in Cleveland. The Browns were ready to sign him as a free agent when the seventh round of the draft wrapped up.
``It was about to be a crazy twist of fate,'' Ndukwe said Friday.
Then, someone else called - the Browns' intrastate rival.
The Cincinnati Bengals wanted to let Ndukwe know that they were taking him with the third-to-last pick in the draft, the 253rd overall. Ndukwe couldn't believe it.
Instead of heading north to stay with Quinn, he was heading south to join the team that was his favorite.
``It was crazy,'' Ndukwe said Friday, during a break at rookie minicamp.
It took something like that to separate two players who have been close since their high school days in suburban Columbus. They have played together, hung out together, roomed together, and dreamed of making the pros together.
``We're best friends,'' Ndukwe said.
Now, they're opponents - sort of. A friendship so deep can't really have any animosity.
It started in junior high school, when Ndukwe's family moved from Tennessee to Powell, just outside Columbus. He wasn't a football player at the time - he loved soccer and basketball - but befriended a transplanted Cincinnatian who urged him to try it.
``He convinced me that the only way I was going to make more friends was by playing football,'' Ndukwe said. ``So, you know, when you're that young, the most important thing to you is getting friends. So I came out (for football). And the next person I met was Brady Quinn - it was really that quick.''
He attended Coffman High School, where Quinn the quarterback and Ndukwe the receiver deepened their friendship. Together, they went to Notre Dame, where Quinn developed into one of the nation's best passers and Ndukwe wound up shuttling from receiver to linebacker to safety.
When the draft came around last weekend, Ndukwe - his name is pronounced en-DUKE'-way and his nicknames are Duke or Doom - watched his friend suffer in silence on television as he slid to 22nd in the first round, where the Browns traded up to pick him.
``It was awful,'' Ndukwe said of his friend's misery.
Ndukwe did even more sliding, almost missing out on the draft completely. Finally, the Bengals called, and he could smile. He had attended Bengals games with his friend from Cincinnati and became a fan.
Quinn always wanted to play for Cleveland. Ndukwe chose the other Ohio team as his favorite.
``You're either one or the other,'' Ndukwe said.
Although Ndukwe is still unpolished at safety, the Bengals think he could develop into a solid one. He majored in marketing and psychology, a combination that impressed coaches.
``He's a very bright guy,'' Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle said. ``He's got a dual degree coming out of Notre Dame. He has to transfer that (to the field) and will have to contribute on special teams.''
The Bengals were aware of his friendship with Quinn. It's reminiscent of the way quarterback Carson Palmer was a housemate with safety Troy Polamalu at Southern California before going their separate ways - Palmer to Cincinnati, Polamalu to the rival Steelers.
``Hopefully, they'll develop quite a rivalry as their careers go on, much like Carson and Polamalu have,'' Coyle said.
This one is just getting started. Quinn made sure of that.
``The first thing he said to me when I finally got drafted was, 'Hey, congratulations, now I get to beat you twice a year. Get ready,''' Ndukwe said. ``He's a good guy, but he's a competitor.''
So is his best friend.
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