- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

If you believe that a contentious, trash-talking, chest-thumping, we’re-better-than-you sports rivalry between two cities is generally a good thing for society, let’s get ready to rumble. Now.

Go to your corners, Baltimore and Washington, and come out punching. A little eye gouging and groin kicking would be fine, too.

Baltimore, you first. We know you hate the Redskins. But D.C. has baseball now, too, and Orioles owner Peter Angelos isn’t the only one exercised over that. A lot of folks got accustomed to enjoying a 33-year monopoly in a growing market that now numbers nearly 7million. You think they’re steamed now? What happens if the renamed Expos become good in just a few years while the O’s continue to regard .500 as hallowed ground? Ouch, that’s what.

And you, Washington. Only 29 miles separate FedEx Field in Landover, where the Redskins play, and M&T; Bank Stadium in Baltimore, home of the Ravens. They’re practically neighbors. But these are different galaxies. The Ravens represent stability and order, sound management and planning — and a little thing four seasons ago called Super Bowl XXXV. The Redskins are all about change, chaos, parking hassles and one playoff appearance since 1992.

Redskins fans, look up the road. Doesn’t this irk you?

It should.

But it doesn’t, not really.

“I think people in Baltimore love to see Washington lose,” Ravens president Dick Cass said. “People in Washington don’t really care if Baltimore wins or not.”

Cass should know. A D.C. native, he left a large, prestigious Washington law firm earlier this year to join the Ravens. He still lives in Montgomery County (but plans to move) and represented the estate of Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.

The cities’ sports rivalry, such as it is, has some inherent problems. One is lack of familiarity. The Redskins and their big rival, the Dallas Cowboys, have played twice a year forever. Yankees-Red Sox, North Carolina-Duke, Republicans-Democrats — all inhabit their same, cozy little worlds. But the Orioles and Expos will be in different leagues, although it looks as if they will start playing each other in 2006. Let’s get it on. Meanwhile, the Redskins (NFC) and the Ravens (AFC) only see each other occasionally, and that probably won’t change.

Still, Sunday night’s game at FedEx Field is one of those times, and some Ravens fans will be there, providing a grand opportunity. Please, can’t we all just not get along? No fighting, certainly no object-throwing, but a little taunting and booing and maybe some clever, hissy signs would be welcome.

The other day, when the guys on WTEM radio’s “Sports Reporters” broached the subject of the rivalry, a fan named Mike called in to relate the experience of attending a Ravens game in Baltimore last year. He and his pals were wearing Redskins colors.

“We were greeted by a chorus of ‘[expletive, expletive]’ the whole game,” Mike said in a tone that indicated this was a negative thing. “They started throwing stuff at us within five minutes. They pretty much harassed us the whole game. The third quarter, we pretty much snapped and started roaring back at them.”

That’s the ticket.

Culturally, the ingredients for a rivalry are here. We all know the perception: Baltimore is a blue-collar, down-to-earth kind of place that people never leave, populated largely by waitresses named Flo (except those named Bea) who call customers “hon.” Washington, on the other hand, is viewed as sophisticated, transient and pretentious, populated largely by politicians and lawyers who call people bad things on “Meet the Press.”

Accordingly, Baltimore can’t stand Washington. That’s good. But Washington views Baltimore benignly as a funky, little town with good Italian restaurants, a nice aquarium, and affordable housing for D.C. yuppies — and that’s it. Nothing kills a rivalry, or a potential rivalry, like indifference.

“We don’t look upon Baltimore as a competitor,” said Blair Lee, president of a Silver Spring commercial real estate company.

See?

Lee knows the psyche of the state. He does a weekly radio show in Baltimore and writes a newspaper column. Both focus on politics. Born into a famous political family, he has vast connections. Lee’s father, Blair Lee III, became Maryland’s acting governor in 1977 after Marvin Mandel resigned over legal problems that eventually sent him to prison. Going back a bit further, Lee is a direct descendant of an actual founding father, Richard Henry Lee, who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

“Baltimore suffers from a massive inferiority complex,” Lee said. “Baltimore is afraid that Washington thinks of Baltimore as its Brooklyn. … The second favorite NFL team in Baltimore is whoever is playing the Redskins this week. I remember going to Colts games and they’d announce the score and you’d hear cheers as if the Colts had scored a touchdown.”

Most Washingtonians don’t feel this way about their northerly neighbor. They don’t feel much of anything about Baltimore.

“D.C. fans might be disappointed with their team, but they don’t measure it against the Ravens,” Lee said.

Said Scott Cornblatt of Gaithersburg, a first-time Redskins season-ticket holder: “The Ravens are another team to me. When the teams play, I get excited, but when I listen for scores, it’s just another game.”

Dario Savarese, vice president of a Redskins booster group, the Quarterback Club of Washington, has attended several events in Baltimore with Ravens fans and players. Without a doubt, he said, “they take glee in the fact the Redskins have not done well.” But as for Redskins fans, “I don’t think they view it the same way,” he said.

Redskins resentment in Baltimore runs wide and deep. After Robert Irsay pulled the Colts out of town in the middle of that snowy night in 1984 and headed for Indianapolis, few Baltimoreans, despite being utterly abandoned, switched to the Redskins.

And when Baltimore tried to get a team — existing or expansion — in much the same way D.C. tried to get a baseball team, guess who stood in its way? Jack Kent Cooke, that’s who, at least according to many. Cooke, beloved by Redskins fans, was despised by old Colts fans for essentially predating Angelos in trying to keep a team out of his “territory.” Cooke, in fact, originally wanted to build his stadium in Laurel, which is even closer to Baltimore than Landover.

“Washington really tried to stick it [to us],” Ravens broadcaster Tom Matte said. “It sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?”

Note how he said “Washington,” not “Cooke.” Washingtonians, on the other hand, might blame Angelos for holding things up with baseball, but they scorn the man, not the city.

A former star running back with the Colts, Matte was a big part of the glory days for Baltimore football fans. From the late 1950s until the early 1970s, the Johnny Unitas years, the Colts not only were arguably the best team over the longest period in the NFL, they absolutely owned the Redskins, whose seasons generally ranged from terrible to mediocre. So even then there wasn’t much of a rivalry.

“I always thought the Redskins were sort of like a doormat,” Matte said.

Said Redskins broadcaster and former linebacker Sam Huff: “I remember when Vince Lombardi came here [in 1969]. We were playing the Colts and he was saying, ‘We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that.’ I said, ‘Coach, have you looked at the won-lost record?’ I said our biggest problem would be getting the team on the bus.”

The Redskins lost to the Colts 41-17 that year, their worst defeat of the season. From 1956 through 1969, Baltimore was 12-1 against Washington. The average victory margin in four of the last five games during that stretch was 22 points. After the NFL realigned and split into the NFC and AFC, the teams stopped playing regularly.

Matte, like so many of his Baltimore brethren, can’t stand the current Redskins or owner Dan Snyder, whom he calls, “Schneider.” Matte and others can’t forget — won’t forget — how several Ravens buses, including one carrying then-owner Art Modell, who was in his 70s and not in the best of health, were banished to a far parking lot at FedEx Field a few years ago. And the broadcast booth at FedEx? Don’t ask.

Because Matte will tell you.

“We’re 10 or 15 yards deep in the end zone,” he said. “We’re in a glass box, no sound. It’s embarrassing. The league should do something about it.”

A Baltimore guy to the core, Matte embraces the class warfare the city has declared on D.C. (“We’re like second-class citizens here,” he said.) and is all for a heated, two-way rivalry.

“It’s a natural,” he said. “It would be fun.”

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