After playing three straight games against their longtime NFC East rivals Philadelphia, Dallas and the New York Giants, the Redskins will actually take the pedal a little off the emotional metal this week.
That’s to be expected. What’s odd about the comedown is that this it’s happening when Washington will be playing its nearest geographic rival, Baltimore, for the first time in four years during the regular season. The Ravens will also be experiencing a similar motivational dropoff after facing their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in two of the past three weeks.
Sunday’s game in Landover will make it 10 straight years that the Redskins and Ravens have clashed. Trouble is that seven of those games will have been of the preseason variety. Under the NFL’s scheduling formula, teams only play opponents from the other conference every four regular seasons, no matter if their stadiums are 33 miles apart or 3,300.
So Washington and Baltimore haven’t played when it matters in the former’s stadium for so long that only tight end Chris Cooley of the Redskins and linebackers Ray Lewis (who’s hurt and won’t play) and Terrell Suggs (who’s also hurt and might not go) and safety Ed Reed of the Ravens are still around from the last such contest back in 2004.
Fast forward to the team’s last game in Baltimore in 2008 and only six more Redskins (Santana Moss, Reed Doughty, Kedric Golston, Lorenzo Alexander London Fletcher and DeAngelo Hall) remain along with only seven more Ravens (Brendon Ayanbadejo, Joe Flacco, Sam Koch, Jameel McClain, Haloti Ngata, Ray Rice and Marshal Yanda). Washington guard Chris Chester was then with Baltimore.
So only 17 or 18 of the 92 players on the field Sunday will have ever participated in a Washington-Baltimore game that meant counted. For the record, the Ravens lead the series 3-1 and are 2-1 in Landover.
The Redskins-Ravens matchup is a rare NFL contest that elicits more passion from the fans than the players. In the Washington area, Redskins rooters live among Ravens boosters on a daily basis. That’s true, in part, because the Redskins have generally been failures since the Ravens arrived in Baltimore in 1996, making the playoffs just three times, winning only two postseason victories and one division title.
Meanwhile, the former Cleveland Browns have thrived in their new home in the Free State, capturing eight playoff berths, three division titles and a Super Bowl trophy.
And the Ravens gained fans in the Washington area who were accustomed to cheering for a Baltimore team as supporters of the Orioles when we were deprived of the baseball from 1972-2004.
Consequently, purple Ravens jerseys have sprouted not just in Howard and Anne Arundel counties but in suburbs that are inside the Washington Beltway. Kids attend the same schools but split their NFL loyalties almost like the split between Jets and Giants fans in the New York area.
The difference is that by now, many of those Gang Green guys and Big Blue faithful have as much as 53 seasons of antipathy – the Jets were born as the American Football League’s Titans in 1960 — towards the other, one that’s often passed down from generation to generation and is fought on the back pages of the New York tabloids.
In contrast, the Ravens are only in their 17th season and didn’t become a factor outside of Baltimore until they won the Super Bowl 12 years ago. And even when Baltimore had the Colts from 1953-83, they never competed in the same division with the Redskins against whom they went 15-5, winning 11 of their 13 meetings beginning in 1960.
What’s more, Washington media hardly cover Baltimore’s teams and Baltimore media ignore Washington’s. They only overlap these days at the Preakness or games involving Maryland or Navy.
There’s also this: the Redskins and Ravens have never been good at the same time. While Baltimore is cruising to another AFC North title, Washington, despite its current three-game winning streak, is on course to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight year. In the three years that the Redskins reached postseason since the Ravens were born, the latter went 8-8, 6-10 and 5-11. Washington has never finished better than 8-8 when Baltimore makes the playoffs, averaging six victories during those eight seasons.
So while every NFL game is important since there are only 16 per season, it means more to Washington to beat distant Seattle or San Francisco than it does to beat Baltimore because they compete for the same six precious NFC playoff spots and the Ravens don’t.
Ultimately, that’s why there’s no Redskins-Ravens rivalry.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin