Rivals only in Baltimore Football: Sunday's game will be the first between Baltimore and Washington since the Colts were in town. But Redskins fans don't see what all the fuss is about.

October 24, 1997|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- It should be a battle for the ages Sunday. Ravens vs. Redskins, Baltimore vs. Washington. Two cities' pride, glory and bragging rights on the line.

There's just one problem: Washington couldn't care less.

Baltimore, ever in the shadow of the nation's capital, can't seem to get noticed even when it is daring Washington to a fight. Instead of making pre-game threats, Washington is treating this weekend's gridiron contest with mild disinterest, dormant passions and cool detachment -- kind of like a reluctant witness at a congressional hearing.

Game? Sunday? We have no recollection of that. We weren't at the briefing.

But in Baltimore, folks have been ready to rumble for months. One Baltimorean dubbed this weekend's game "the Super Bowl" of the Ravens' season. Madge Stanley, a usually mild-mannered waitress at an old Colts haunt in Brooklyn, smells blood.

"We want to destroy Washington," says Stanley, 58, a Club 4100 barmaid who says she refused to root for the 'Skins even when Baltimore lost its beloved Colts in 1984. "People in Washington don't think too much about Baltimore one way or another -- not like how we feel about them. We want to stick it to them."

But Redskins lovers, like Fran O'Brien, a former Redskins tackle, do not see what all the fuss is about. In his Washington steakhouse, he sells books about legendary showdowns between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. But Baltimore? Don't they just do baseball?

"It's not much of a rivalry," O'Brien says. "These things need time to develop. Maybe they need to change the name back to the Colts. That might help."

This is the first time that Baltimore and Washington have played during the season since Dec. 13, 1981, when the Colts were still in town. And the two teams, which play in different conferences, are not likely to face off again in the regular season for three years.

Sunday's game, starting at 1 p.m. at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, won't send either team directly to the NFL playoffs, nor will it knock out competitors in their divisions or match up football legends. But for Baltimore, it offers a chance to settle old scores.

After all, Baltimoreans believe Washington has tried to hog football for itself. They accuse former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and then Jack Kent Cooke of trying to torpedo Baltimore's chances of winning and keeping a National Football League team.

But what really galls Baltimore fans is a nagging sense that one of the two cities has a superiority complex. (Hint: It's not Baltimore.) Baltimoreans hope to redeem some hometown pride at the expense of a city that always seems to grab the national spotlight. If the Ravens win Sunday, Baltimore will be able to gloat into the next millennium.

"Washington has always seemed to me like they think they're higher up than Baltimore," says John Ziemann, president of the old Baltimore Colts' Band, which remained together during the long years after football disappeared from Baltimore.

"They think we're a whistle- stop. But let's face it: They don't have city spirit," he adds. "Not like Baltimore. We live and breathe and work here. This is a real city."

To Ziemann, part of being a good Baltimore football fan means loathing the Redskins, a lesson he instilled in his son Patrick from age 5.

"Patrick brought a Redskin balloon in one time and I said: 'Patrick, don't ever bring this in our house again,' and I popped it," says Ziemann. "Maybe you think I'm a ghoul for busting my kid's balloon, but it had to be done."

Washington fans don't get too exercised by Baltimore's insults. Some sound mildly amused by talk of a rivalry they didn't know existed, with the Ravens in only their second season.

"I don't know what it is about Washington that Baltimore gets so upset about," says Pete Moore, 42, a 'Skins season-ticket holder who grew up in Northern Virginia. He likened the wings on a Ravens helmet to a Harley-Davidson symbol, but it was clear his heart wasn't in the jab. "I don't really have animosity toward the Ravens," he says with a shrug. "Not at all."

This week, radio talk show hosts were chattering about the game, trying to create a little animosity. But so far, the feelings are pretty one-sided.

On Rick "Doc" Walker's radio sports show in Washington, an average of three Redskins-haters have called for every one Ravens-hater. And his program isn't even broadcast in Baltimore.

Walker, a Redskins tight end in the 1980s, knows Baltimore's sore feelings firsthand. When he appeared in Baltimore to cover a Ravens game recently, the crowd heckled him. "The fans were going nuts. 'Why are you here? You're a Redskin!' " he remembers them saying. " 'Get out!' "

Even Ravens management didn't anticipate the bile Baltimoreans would hold for Washington. At one game earlier this season, they gleefully announced that the Redskins were beating Baltimore's divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. This was supposed to bring cheers.

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