If Ravens running back Earnest Byner had forgotten the hatred Baltimore football fans have for the Washington Redskins, then he received a refresher course this summer.
"I remember going to a function here and I was wearing a Redskins Super Bowl jacket," Byner said. "Some lady says, 'Hey, don't you know we hate the Redskins?' I told her I was open to learning."
The Ravens (3-4) and Redskins (4-3) kick off the inaugural game of the series today at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at 1 p.m. The Redskins have virtually dismissed this as just another game, one that is important to their psyche and their standing in the NFC East, but in no other way.
However, the Ravens, despite moving to Baltimore almost two years ago, are taking it a little more personally. They have heard the stories of past Colts-Redskins games and how late Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke tried to corner the regional market by saying he was going to build a stadium in Laurel, which may have kept Baltimore from getting an expansion team.
Outside the Ravens' training complex in Owings Mills, a new sign appeared. Under a previous one -- "Ravens make us proud" -- was "Beat the Redskins."
"I think the focus needs to be more inward, but I know about the rivalry from an earlier affiliation," said Byner, a Redskin from 1989 to '93. "At the end of practice [Friday], Coach [Ted Marchibroda] talked to us about playing for Baltimore pride. What better place to show it than Jack Kent Cooke Stadium?"
Said Ravens kicker Matt Stover: "The players are aware of the rivalry. The history goes way back, much like the Cleveland-Pittsburgh series with more hype. It's more than a city rivalry. We've got to get a W. If we don't win, we're 3-5 and it's tough to climb back."
The Redskins aren't as involved in the rivalry. They are trying to rebound from a stinging, 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Oilers last week. But there are hints of community pride.
"It's almost like a cross-town rivalry. The Ravens are closer to our stadium than we are," said Washington offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh, a former player with the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League, referring to the fact that the Redskins train in Ashburn, Va.
Redskins receiver Leslie Shepherd, a Washington native, said: "It's not an away game for them. We'll send them back to Baltimore mad, but it will be a quick drive."
It has been an intense week for the Ravens, and not just because they play the Redskins. The Ravens are still feeling the fallout from last Sunday's 24-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
On Monday, Marchibroda criticized some of the players for not giving complete efforts, then told his players that if they didn't practice during the week, they wouldn't start on Sundays. He also had the team in full gear on a Wednesday for the first time since the team moved here.
"I think we had some pretty lively practices, maybe the best since training camp," Byner said.
Maybe that will be the spark the Ravens need. They have lost three straight, and in two of those games the opposition has run right through the defense. The Redskins will not try to do anything different. They have an inconsistent quarterback in Gus Frerotte, who has completed only 108 of 213 passes for 1,525 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I think the defensive line has something to prove this week," said Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. His unit has allowed an average of 118.9 rushing yards.
"The Redskins are going to come off the ball and try to roll us. They tell you where they're going to run and say, 'Come stop us.' "
The Redskins may be without running back Terry Allen, who leads the team in rushing with 361 yards on 102 carries. He did not practice this past week because of a sprained left knee he injured almost two weeks ago. Starting right offensive tackle Ed Simmons also was slowed by a knee injury during the week.
The Ravens enter the game with the league's top-ranked passing offense, and the Redskins have the top-ranked pass defense. There will be some interesting matchups, with Ravens receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander going against cornerbacks Cris Dishman and Darrell Green.
But the key for the Ravens may not hinge on passing yards, but how effectively they run. The Redskins have the No. 29 rush defense, allowing 155.7 yards a game. The Ravens are ranked No. 27 in rushing, averaging 83.9 yards.
The Ravens had some success running against the Dolphins early, but had to get away from the game plan when they fell behind.
"In my opinion, that is the key to the game," said Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The Ravens certainly have the motivation.
"I think we all recognize that our fans want us to beat the Redskins. It's the Baltimore-Washington rivalry," Marchibroda said.
Ravens at Redskins
Site: Jack Kent Cooke
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Redskins by 6
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Pub Date: 10/25/97