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A Skeptical Approach To Regional Rivalries

Posted Dec 7, 2012

While the media hypes up a regional rivalry between Redskins and Ravens, both teams should be focused on a win on the scoreboard over a win in the fan count.

Football rivalries are as old as the sport itself, where players and fans simply do not like their counterparts on another team.

Rivalries are usually based on divisional competition, with hotly contested games breeding animosity, and familiarity yielding grudges.  Some of the best rivalries in the NFL right now include Redskins-Cowboys, Ravens-Steelers and Bears-Packers.

Sometimes rivalries are based on conference excellence, as the top teams usually square off in prime time and postseason play, including any AFC team vs. the Patriots, Packers-Saints and Giants-49ers.

And then there are geographical rivalries, built by neighborly discussions and perpetuated by the media.  With the exception of the Giants and Jets, who share a stadium in New Jersey, there is very little for teams of opposite conferences to rival about.

Take, for example, the Redskins-Ravens ‘rivalry.’ The two franchises are separated by a 40-mile stretch of I-95, but proximity sheds little light on this competition.

The two teams have played each other only four times in the regular season during the Ravens’ 16 seasons in Baltimore.  The results of those four contests have been decidedly one-sided, as the Ravens have won three-of-four by a combined score of 47-64.

Washington’s lone victory came during the Ravens’ Super Bowl season, as the Redskins won a 10-3 defensive battle at FedExField.  The game was ultimately decided by a 33-yard rumble by Redskins’ running back Stephen Davis in the fourth quarter, which sealed the Redskins’ fifth victory of the season.

Other than an exhibition game in seven of the last 10 preseasons, the Ravens have been just another AFC opponent. 

Since the last Redskins-Ravens regular season game in 2008, the Redskins have had turnover at general manager, head coach, most of the coaching staff, and 87 percent of the Redskins' roster.

So why the hype? Thank the media, who baited Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh into ‘courting Redskins fans’ during the team’s playoff push last January.

“I love the Baltimore Raven fans. We're reaching out and trying to get more,” Harbaugh told the gathered Baltimore and Washington media. “We're trying to take control of this whole area. We'll take over Washington D.C. while we're at it.”

Cue the outrage in Redskins Nation, as the sound bite echoed around the Nation’s Capital. From the coach’s press conference room at the Ravens’ facilities, the media went to the locker room, where they got this quote from quarterback Joe Flacco.

“As many Redskins fans as we could steal, that would be huge for us because they have a great following from what I understand,” he said.  “They’re on the franchises that have been around for a while and people love the Redskins so if we could steal some of their fans, I think we'd be doing a pretty good job.”

Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson is one of a number of players that have suited up for both teams, including Chris Chester, Lorenzo Alexander, Casey Rabach, Donte’ Stallworth and Edgar Jones.

For Wilson, a lifelong Redskins’ fan, the Ravens may be exciting, but the Redskins bring a legacy 80 years in the making.

“One thing about it, they have nowhere near the tradition of Redskins fans,” Wilson said earlier this year. “My uncle is 50 years old and all [he] knows are the Redskins.  You would almost think somebody’s died when the Redskins have lost.”

From a player perspective, Wilson said the rivalry is fun, but mostly because he played for both teams.

“It’s always a little something extra and a little more fun when you’re preparing to go against your friends,” Wilson said. “It should be fun seeing all those guys.”

Even as a fan, Wilson doesn’t really care about the fabled Baltimore-Washington rivalry, acknowledging that the team just needs a win, regardless of who is on the other sideline.

“We have our own rivalries and they have theirs,” he said.  “We’re focused on winning the NFC East, and I know they have their own physical battles in the AFC North.”

With so many other storylines available this week, a media-contrived geographical rivalry is just not that compelling.

The Ravens need this game in order to lock up a playoff spot for the fifth-consecutive year. The Redskins need this game in order to continue their hunt for the playoffs, for the first time in five years.

Whichever team wins the fan count matters very little compared to who wins on the scoreboard.