Harbaugh trying to pump up Ravens-Redskins rivalry

Coach can't help that passion among Mid-Atlantic foes is lacking

August 23, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

It is a fairly tepid rivalry that will be renewed when the Ravens take the field against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, but that is not for lack of effort on the part of John Harbaugh.

The Ravens coach isn't in the business of delivering bulletin-board material to his future opponents, but he seems to understand the entertainment value of a little back-and-forth between the two NFL franchises in the Mid-Atlantic region.

That's why he doesn't shy away from questions about the potential for a serious rivalry, even as long-time fans of both teams tend to dismiss any real competition for their hearts and wallets.

"I just think it's a unique situation we have with the Ravens, and really in this whole corridor," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "How many football teams do you have in this corridor, and we're kind of in the middle. You've got the Redskins. You've even got Carolina down south a little bit. You've got Pittsburgh. You've got Philadelphia. Then you've got the New York teams. For us, we're right in the middle of the whole deal, so we've got to, over the course of time as we grow as a franchise, keep growing our fan base into this whole Mid-Atlantic northeast region."

Don't expect anybody to get too upset about that, but Harbaugh did ruffle some burgundy and gold feathers in January when he got on a roll during his post-playoff news conference and said — in not so many words — that the Ravens were going to invade the District and paint it purple.

"I love the Baltimore Raven fans. We're reaching out and trying to get more,'' Harbaugh said. "We're trying to take control of this whole area. We'll take over Washington D.C. while we're at it. And head up into Pennsylvania and grab all those fans, and over to West Virginia and Virginia. Come on and be a Baltimore Raven fan because this is an exciting organization and exciting football team."

Nobody around here took Harbs' rah-rah rant all that seriously. The Ravens do have some tentacles in southern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but they don't figure to have a lot of success deprogramming any die-hard Redskins fans. The 'Skins have been around way too long and their fan base is way too passionate for that, even if that passion has not been rewarded in awhile.

"I don't think it's a big deal,'' Harbaugh said. "We're going to compete against them on the field on Thursday night. That's what we're going to do. All the other stuff is fun. It's fun for the fans. There's a guy named Grady that coaches my daughter's softball team — so, a shout out to Grady and his family — he's a Redskins fans. I think finally, after three years of coaching my daughter Alison, we may have swayed him a little bit to the Ravens. That shows you how tough it is."

The Ravens are 3-0 against the Redskins during the Harbaugh era, though only one of those victories has come during the regular season. They are 7-3 against Washington since arriving in Baltimore in 1996. The last time the teams played was last August, and Harbaugh followed up their 23-3 preseason victory with the one quote he has delivered about the rivalry that he wished he could have taken back.

"Guys like football, and our guys have gone to work,'' he said during a late-summer fan event. "I thought when we played against the Redskins, especially this last week, you saw that. I mean, our guys got after it pretty good, and we kind of ran over that team, and we're kind of proud of that. That's the way we ought to play."

Strangely enough, it was departed Raven Josh Wilson — in just his first season with the Redskins — who jumped to the defense of Washington fans this week and dismissed any comparison between the two franchises and their respective followings.

"One thing about it, [the Ravens] have nowhere near the tradition of Redskins fans," Wilson told the Washington Post. "... My uncle is 50-so years old and all they know are Redskins and you'd almost think somebody's died when the Redskins have lost. … But the Ravens have a strong fan base up there. They're growing and getting kind of that establishment that the Redskins already have."

The Ravens, who are headed into their 16th season in Baltimore, apparently will concede the point.

"They've been around for about 50 years longer, so it's only natural to have more tradition,'' said linebacker Jarret Johnson. "If you look at the Ravens versus the Redskins, it is a bigger tradition, but Baltimore history as a whole, there's a very rich tradition, especially in football."

No one can deny that the Redskins are one of the NFL's most storied teams, and nobody at The Castle seemed to have a problem with Wilson's appraisal of the situation.

"The Redskins have been around for like 100 years or something like that,'' Harbaugh said. "How many has it been — 70 or 80? That's the difference. We've only been around since '96, so that's probably the context of his quote. We won't take offense to that."

One thing is pretty obvious. It's going to be tough to stoke this rivalry if that's what passes for trash talk between these two teams. They might as well have a picnic after the game.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.

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