WASHINGTON - Oh, their lying, cheating hearts.
They're really Redskins fans, these Washingtonians say, living for the day their team makes it back to the Super Bowl. But would it be so bad if they were to fall for another city on just one evening of one year at one game?
We'll still love Washington in the morning, they insist, but can't we date Baltimore just this one Sunday night?
"They're very lucky up there," Robert Moorman muses dreamily, gesturing toward Baltimore from the heart of Redskins territory, the Northern Virginia restaurant owned by former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann. "I'm a Redskins fan, but I'd love it if the Ravens won."
Diagnosis: Ravens Envy.
The Redskins should have seen this one coming. After all, some wonder, did Redskins owner Dan Snyder think he could buy himself victory with marquee players and a smart-aleck attitude?
Isn't it only human, they argue, to fall prey to the appeal of a fresh, young upstart? Furthermore, they add, isn't Baltimore close enough to call home anyway?
And one more thing: The Ravens are in the Super Bowl, and the Skins aren't.
Die-hards seem immune
Of course, the most fiercely loyal of Redskins die-hards seem immune to Ravens Envy. For them, there is no team but their own, even in the worst years.
"A Redskins fan is a Redskins fan - we don't care about the Ravens," says Tod Castleberry, a longtime Redskins fan who is handling dozens of irate calls about Redskins deserters in his job at WTEM, Washington's sports radio station. "Is Baltimore our team? Hell no!"
Even most defectors say theirs is a temporary crush that will fade long before the fall's first kickoff.
Still, a surprising number of Washingtonians are abandoning their usual indifference toward all things Baltimorean, ditching their game-time pig noses (signifying their love for the "hogs" on the Redskins' offensive line) and backing the Ravens in Sunday's big game.
To many, a sudden swoon for Baltimore is perfectly in character for Washington. At the Redskins hangout Fran O'Brien's, diners said the shifting loyalties recall another obsession here: politics.
"Three months ago, I never would have wanted to go to any inaugural balls, but I spent last weekend feeling left out," says Ce Harrison, a Democrat lunching at O'Brien's. "And it's the same with football. I get the hype about being with the winning team."
Hiding their love away
Even so, some fans here are trying to hide their new love - for fear they'll be tarred as turncoats when the Redskins play again.
"I think the Ravens may be my new team," says Jack Taylor, a Washington native who was disgusted with the Redskins' performance this season. Even so, it's not something he advertises.
"I'm a business owner here in town," he says, lowering his voice at a crowded sports bar here, noting that it could hurt his car dealership if he bashed the Redskins or Dan Snyder in public.
For some, seeing the Ravens in the Super Bowl is hard to stomach because Washington beat Baltimore 10-3 in their one head-to-head game last year. (Washington also beat the Giants in one of the two games they played.)
And it is particularly humbling for those Redskins fans who consider Baltimore too small-town to call a football enemy. While Baltimoreans tend to play up a burgeoning Redskins-Ravens rivalry, most Washingtonians say none exists.
After Baltimore lost its Colts in 1984, it was loath to adopt the Redskins - partly out of lingering grief over the city's departed team, not to mention a general distaste for Washington.
"Baltimore people never became Redskins fans, but down here people just say, `Well, the Redskins aren't in it, let's root for the team up the road,'" says Tom Shehan, a Redskins fan. "People around here grew up elsewhere, rooting for other teams anyway. And they don't like Dan Snyder, so they're happy to see how this makes him twist in the wind."
Ravens supporters are popping up in the unlikeliest of places. In the office of Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, spokeswoman Peggy Armstrong picked up her telephone this week with "Go Ravens" instead of "Hello." (Admittedly, the native Baltimorean had checked her caller ID first to make sure that a district official was not on the other end.)
On WMAL, callers during Washington's morning drive time took a Ravens oath. "I pledge allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens, and to the fans of that proud city," they said. "The Redskins stink no matter what you think, and that ain't nothing but a pity."
Over the past month, the district's chapter of the Ravens fan club has received 10 times the usual hits on its Web site (www.geocities.com/ravensdc), says Peter Chandler, the group's president. A Baltimore native who works at the U.S. Transportation Department, Chandler says he expects to gain enough members this year to persuade the Ravens establishment to officially sanction his club.