The Great Divide

For team that's so close to Baltimore Redskins are considered far away

December 05, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,

It would have been so easy, really.

I was 7 years old, and my city's pro football team had played wretchedly for my entire sentient existence. In fact, the Colts were mere weeks from being hauled out of town for good on a fleet of Mayflower trucks.

Just down the road, however, lay an alternative, the best dang football team in the world actually. They boasted a cool, telegenic maestro at quarterback and a dignified wizard of a head coach. Their receivers invented a dance routine to celebrate the pure joy of scoring touchdowns. Their linemen inspired grown men to don pig snouts.

How much fun would it have been to root for the Washington Redskins? I was a kid. No one would have beaten me up for casting my allegiance 30 miles south.

I had cried when the Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 Super Bowl. But I didn't really understand football at that point. My grandfather got us season tickets for the Colts in 1983, so that was the year I really learned the game.

And I learned that the Redskins played it better than anybody in the NFL. If there was a time for me to drop my childish objection to Washington's team, 1983 was it. The Redskins were headed for another Super Bowl. All I had to do was hop on the bandwagon and they'd clearly make me happy.

But what can I say? I was a Baltimore kid. My dad didn't even care about football, but he always ripped on his co-workers in Howard County who loved the 'Skins and ignored the Colts. I think he considered their loyalty cheap.

On top of that, I had my grandpa charming me with stories about stoop-shouldered Johnny U. brushing off cracked ribs to lead impossible rallies at Memorial Stadium. So what if Baltimore had no football future? I'd rather embrace its honorable past than cheer with those smarmy dilettantes from the other beltway.

So I turned my back on the Washington bandwagon. Instead of becoming a Redskins fan, I devoted myself to hating them with an ardor reserved for no other sports franchise.

I will never forget the 1984 Super Bowl. The Redskins indeed made it back and were a solid favorite over the Los Angeles Raiders. The NFC was beginning its long run of dominance and the thought that Joe Theismann, John Riggins and the Hogs could be knocked off by a decaying Jim Plunkett seemed implausible, no matter how badly I wanted it.

I expected a sad night.

Which made the Raiders' 38-9 demolition of the 'Skins that much lovelier. It was like thinking I was going to get a sweater for Christmas and instead getting a Millennium Falcon and an Atari.

When Marcus Allen started one way but then reversed field and swept all the way around the Washington defense for a 74-yard touchdown, I could barely have felt more elated. It was almost as exciting as watching the Orioles win the World Series a few months earlier. I hated the Redskins that much.

My enmity for the burgundy and gold only grew from there.

Washington might've had better restaurants, museums and rock clubs than Baltimore, but I could tick off far more reasons to look down on the place. The traffic circles that never came around to the street you started on, all the transients pulled there by a lust for political power, weekend gridlock on the Capital Beltway. Yuck!

And the Redskins, with owner Jack Kent Cooke trying to block Baltimore from getting another team, were the worst of it.

By all rights, I should've pulled for Doug Williams to become the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 1988. His was a good story and his opposite number, John Elway, had brutally snubbed Baltimore. But base loathing overrode all. I cheered wildly when Elway threw a long touchdown pass for the game's first score, and my heart sank a little lower every time Williams completed a bomb in his epic second quarter.

It was hard to be a 'Skins hater in the late '80s and early '90s. They kept throwing it back in my face with their excellence. But I persevered, even when they ran roughshod over the NFL in 1991 (to show that I can be fair, that was one of the five greatest teams I've seen, and it's criminally underappreciated because Mark Rypien was the quarterback.)

I'll pause my tale of vitriol for a moment to tell the story of Guy Damrosch, a Columbia resident who is a few years older than me and writes for the Redskins fan site Riggo's Rag. His father was an old-school Colts fan, who had tickets at Memorial Stadium. "But my earliest memories were of the Colts [stinking]," Damrosch told me. "Once they left, we really had no other option. We needed a team, the Redskins were right there and they were good."

To show his Colts bona fides, he said he would never think well of the franchise as long as an Irsay owns it and that he always despised Elway for shunning Baltimore. But he saw no reason to hate the 'Skins.

"They were my first football love," he said.

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