Purple here, green in D.C.

Envy: Some Washington football fans are frustrated to compare their struggling club with the successful team to the north.

RAVENS vs TITANS

Afc Wild-card Game

January 03, 2004|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

For Bobby Greene, the co-owner of a jewelry store in Vienna, Va., the combination of events was just too much.

In the same week that his beloved football team, the Washington Redskins, saw its much-hyped coach quit in failure, the team up the road in Baltimore - a purple-clad bunch lacking in the rich tradition of his own burgundy-and-gold 'Skins - was once again heading to the playoffs.

In a fit of frustration, Greene, 28, went into the wine shop adjacent to his family's jewelry store and made the sports equivalent of a genuflection to a conquering power. He asked the wine shop owner, avid Ravens fan Norm Yow, for a spare Ray Lewis jersey to wear during the playoffs.

"I told Norm, `Hey, if you've got an extra No. 52 you can hook me up with, I'll take it,'" said Greene, referring to the jersey number worn by Lewis, the Ravens' star linebacker.

"I'm still with the Redskins, but after this ... " His voice trailed off.

Around the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, the subtle dynamics of football fandom took a noticeable lurch this week. As the Ravens prepared to play host today to the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the playoffs, Redskins fans were hit with the resignation of head coach Steve Spurrier, who had arrived in Washington to huge expectations, and a $25 million contract, just two years before.

It was only the most vivid example of the increasingly stark contrast between the directions of the two franchises situated fewer than 40 miles from each other that vie for the attention of Maryland and its fringes. The Ravens are going to the playoffs for the third time since the franchise moved to Baltimore from Cleveland eight years ago, including their Super Bowl-winning tour three years ago.

The Redskins - at 72 years old, one of the league's most storied franchises - have fared poorly by comparison. They've been to the playoffs only once in the past decade. Under Spurrier, who was expected to propel the Redskins to the same success he had enjoyed at the University of Florida, Washington went 12-20 over the past two years. Owner Dan Snyder, a marketing tycoon who has little support among fans, is looking for the team's fifth head coach in five years.

When the Ravens made their Super Bowl run three years ago, Redskins fans expressed bemused envy at the fact that a newfangled team in the nearby city Washingtonians find easy to ignore had struck gold. But now that the Ravens are back in the playoffs and clearly no longer a fluke, while the Redskins flounder in disarray, the envy has taken a darker cast for some.

While the teams are not true rivals, because they play in different conferences, some Redskins fans find it outrageous on principle to be upstaged again.

"It's pretty humiliating," said Greene. "We're the storied franchise that's been here since, what, 1932? [The Ravens] came in out of Cleveland, and, well, it's worked for them and it hasn't worked for us."

They pledge allegiance

To what degree this bitterness has translated into new fans for the Ravens in the Baltimore-Washington area is hard to quantify. Diehard Redskins fans say they'll never drop, or even split, their allegiance, even if they root for the Ravens out of regional loyalty in the playoffs.

"To me, it's hard to see how you can be a Ravens fan and a Redskins fan," said Marty Gonzalez, a 40-year-old pharmaceutical sales manager who lives in Silver Spring. "It's great that the Ravens are doing well, but it doesn't affect me and how I view the Redskins."

At the same time, Ravens officials believe their greater success over the past few years has helped them make inroads into areas that have long been solid Redskins territory.

Fans in the suburbs between Baltimore and Washington who gravitated to the Redskins after the Colts left Baltimore in 1984 now have another option, and a more winning one, at that. While about a third of Ravens' season ticket-holders live within 10 miles of the team's stadium, 45 percent live between 11 and 50 miles away, many in the populous suburbs south of Baltimore.

Ravens officials believe that the team's success has even helped it penetrate deep into the Redskins' back yard. Of the 20 percent of Ravens season ticket-holders who live outside Maryland, 31 percent are from Virginia or Washington (44 percent are from Pennsylvania.)

Meanwhile, ratings have increased for Ravens games broadcast by the CBS television affiliate in Washington, which carried 10 of Baltimore's 16 games this season.

"I don't know if I can make the case that people are switching allegiances, but surely there is greater interest in the Ravens" in former Redskin strongholds, said Dennis Mannion, vice president of business development and marketing for the Ravens.

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