'Rivalry' vs. Redskins has roots in Marshall's sneering stance

October 26, 1997|By John Steadman

As Tom Clancy, the prestigious author whose prolific creativity has led to worldwide recognition and untold fortune, once said facetiously: "I'd rather sell my children to the gypsies than have them root for the Washington Redskins."

From a provincial viewpoint, such a targeted declaration fully expressed the feelings inherent in Baltimore. But only Baltimore; certainly not Washington.

Clancy spoke it like the true native son he is, growing up in a rowhouse and a former occupant of second-deck seats for Baltimore Colts games at Memorial Stadium. Those were days when the Colts would pound on the Redskins as an annual rite of football passage. The record, at one point, including exhibitions, was an overwhelming 19 straight victories for the Colts over the Redskins.

Now, fast-forward to this afternoon's agenda. At a stadium playpen the late owner Jack Kent Cooke erected and, to his everlasting credit, didn't ask the public to pay for, his once beloved Redskins will receive a guest from Baltimore. Not the Colts this time. Rather the Ravens.

Attempts have been made among some drum-beaters in the media to re-create a war between the cities. Small chance. In the past, the feelings that Baltimore held for Washington were well-documented. A barrage of near nonstop insults. There was only one problem. Washington didn't reply in kind, so it became a scenario akin to arguing with yourself.

What it actually constituted was a one-way rivalry. Baltimore wanted to beat up on Washington, trashing it with vindictive comments. But Washington didn't take offense. It simply didn't care and wasn't about to make a football game a cause celebre. What was to be reminiscent of a Hatfield and McCoy kind of feud, staged on a civic level, never happened, but it wasn't because Baltimore wasn't trying to inflame the relationship.

This was somewhat tantamount to what existed in another venue, baseball, when the Brooklyn Dodgers met the New York Giants before their infamous defections. The parishioners in Brooklyn made it a vengeful mission, but the Giants really didn't take it as a matter of defending borough prestige. Brooklyn was intent on beating New York, but the feeling wasn't mutual.

Translated, but only for purposes of comparison, Baltimore was Brooklyn, Washington was New York. The lords and ladies of Baltimore were fired up against Washington, and rightfully so. It had its origin when George Preston Marshall, the avowed racist who owned the Redskins, talked down to Baltimore during a previous football encounter between his National Football League and the All-America Conference.

The All-America Conference, with Baltimore a franchise member, was struggling to get a toehold; the NFL was already well-established. Marshall never missed a chance to ridicule Baltimore from his pompous perch in the District of Columbia. He insisted, with indignation, at the time of the leagues merging in 1950 that Baltimore pay for intrusion on his marketing territory. Baltimore didn't feel it had to pay tribute to Marshall or Washington. But that's the way it was. It either paid or it didn't play.

When Baltimore engaged the Redskins at Griffith Stadium, Colts fans would show up, in parade formation, carrying signs demeaning Marshall. The Redskins' chief couldn't endure the ridicule from all the animated billboards in the stands, so he'd order the ushers to either take the placards away from the visitors or escort them off the premises.

Colts fans, bent on irritating, were known to infiltrate the ranks of the Redskins' Band, a Marshall pride and joy, and try to make off with an instrument or two. It was Baltimore's way of harassing Marshall, an egomaniac and a racist but a genius when it came to promoting the NFL with inventions and innovations. In fact, Marshall might have enjoyed his status as "the most-hated man in Baltimore" because he knew it sold tickets and there was nothing he coveted more than money.

Baltimore, when it first began playing, made beating Washington a crusade. Yet Washington was too blase to even care. The tale of two cities might heat up to a similar extent again but, for now, with the Ravens, it has not taken on overtones of evolving into a grudge battle. When Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore last year, the Redskins didn't dare stand in the way of the process.

Cooke was similar to Marshall in numerous aspects, except he was a man for all people, even if he was born contemptible. But Cooke didn't play the race card. Never did. They were alike, though, in how they carried themselves. Both made a striking appearance. Impeccably dressed. Elegant. Eloquent. Dictatorial. Selfish.

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