Redskins fans turn purple

Ravens: More and more longtime Washington boosters are finding a place in their hearts for the high-flying team from Baltimore.

January 11, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

This season, in what had been fertile territory for the Washington Redskins, the manager of Odie's Pub in Odenton has started calling some of his burly, beer-drinking customers "cross-dressers."

The customers, who come to the sports bar to watch football and eat chicken wings and crab balls, are showing up in Redskins T-shirts and Baltimore Ravens hats.

And, said manager Francois Koryak, those are the fans still loyal to the Redskins.

"About three years ago, everybody was a Redskins fan," Koryak said. "Now it is 50-50, with more and more people swinging to the Ravens every day."

That sentiment is being repeated this week across communities that had been akin to an NFL demilitarized zone - the suburban swath that runs from Frederick through Columbia and over to Annapolis and the Eastern Shore - separating Washington and Baltimore fans.

The Ravens' and Redskins' organizations have been fighting over the area, which roughly follows Route 32 in Howard County and U.S. 50 in Anne Arundel County, for the lucrative base of fans who can generate higher team revenues.

"I think it's vital because of the dense population," said Dennis Mannion, the Ravens' vice president of business and marketing.

For much of the recent past, the Frederick-to-Annapolis corridor has been an impenetrable Redskins territory. But that appears to be changing because of the Washington team's underachieving season and a controversial owner who has angered many fans.

It doesn't hurt, either, that the Ravens are one game away from playing in Super Bowl XXXV.

"I've switched over - and I have been a Redskins fan all my life," said Kevin Heat, 23, of Columbia. "[The Ravens] have a great organization, great coaching, great players, and they got their stuff in order."

Many of the new Ravens fans are old Baltimore Colts fans who switched to the Redskins when the Colts left in 1984 and have now switched back to a Maryland team.

Others, like Heat, have converted after being Redskins fans for many years. Then there are those fans Koryak calls the "cross-dressers."

"Am I a Redskins' fan? I have to be," said Washington native Charles H. Ingram, 52, who now lives in Savage. "Am I a Ravens fan? You bet."

Ingram and other fans say the Ravens' new support in Central Maryland is much deeper than the bandwagon effect created by a winning season. They predict that the Redskins will have a tough time regaining fans they have lost.

"I think a lot of people are disgusted with the Redskins right now," said Randy Skaradek, 50, of Crofton, who recently bought a Ravens T-shirt after being a Washington fan for three decades.

That is bad news for Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder, who has been aggressively trying to expand his team's fan base.

Last summer, the Redskins began marketing the team in Baltimore, trying to attract new fans to its training camp after it became the first - and only - NFL team to charge people to watch pre-season practices.

The Ravens responded by sending out 37,000 mailers to homes in Washington and placing a half-page ad in the Washington Post.

Mannion said he now thinks of Washington and Baltimore as one market, meaning the Ravens and Redskins will compete for fans just as the New York Jets and the New York Giants do.

"It is absolutely a two-team market," Mannion said, noting the Ravens already have "dense populations" of season ticket holders who come from Northern Virginia. "It is an expanding pie that continues to grow at an outstanding rate."

Rick Fisher, owner of Annapolis Shirt Co., said that if sales of team merchandise are any indication, the Ravens have won over his Annapolis customers.

"The Redskins have always sold better until this year," he said. "Now it is about 2-to-1 [Ravens], while in the past it was the opposite."

People on the fence

The ACME Bar and Grill in Annapolis didn't even show Ravens games when the team moved from Cleveland in 1996.

But Roy Dunshee, the owner, said the only support he has seen for the Redskins in recent weeks is the miniature team helmet that remains on a bar shelf.

"There is a real shift in allegiance," said Dunshee, a Redskins fan all his life. "Daniel Snyder has made it difficult to root for the Redskins. ... Hard-core fans are not going to desert the Redskins, but the people on the fence are all about the Ravens."

Ted Siomporas, of Crofton, said membership in the Anne Arundel County Ravens Roost, a fan club, has grown from five people to 170 in less than a year.

New member Yancy Stern, 32, of Crofton - a "die-hard, lifelong Redskins fan" - joined after attending a Ravens game at PSINet Stadium. "It is kind of hard not to like the team, the way they play like they do," he said.

But Stern's brother, Doug Stern, 28, said it is too hard to shake his family's tradition of supporting the Redskins.

"I think it's pathetic," Doug Stern said of his brother's enthusiasm for the Ravens. "My brother is not staying true to his heart."

Averse to Modell

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