It used to be accepted as an article of faith that a game between the Colts and Baltimore was a holy war like no other in Ravenstown.
Nothing – not even the loathed, towel-waving Pittsburgh Steelers – flushed faces and spiked blood pressure more than the sight of the horseshoe-helmeted team that snuck out of Baltimore in 1984 coming back to try to inflict more misery on their purple-clad replacements. Rivalries run hot, but nothing trumps a bitter history, right?
Well, maybe it's time to re-think that.
The Great Crusade will be reprised yet again when the Ravens host the Indianapolis Colts Sunday in a wild-card round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, but it's funny, that aspect of the matchup doesn't feel quite as knee-buckling important this time around, at least not as far as I can tell from putting my ear to the ground and reckoning the public vibe.
I'm not hearing it from people, reading it anywhere or sensing its predominance in any way. The chance to exact revenge on the Irsay family, which still owns and operates the Colts, seemingly isn't perched anywhere close to the top of the list of reasons why the game is special.
What matters more? Let's start with the fact that it's a playoff game, which means the Ravens' season is on the line. They're in the postseason for a fifth straight year, with two trips to the AFC title game to show for their hard work, but a return trip to the Super Bowl is their stated goal, and as the No. 4 seed in a six-team field, they have their work cut out for them.
When the stakes are that high, winning the game and advancing to the next round is what matters most, regardless of the opponent.
And with the Ravens having gone to considerable lengths to get this far in the first place, firing their offensive coordinator along the way, their blueprint and methodology are under scrutiny more than ever.
There's also the fact that linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to suit up for the first time since mid-October and also possibly the last time at M&T Bank Stadium, depending on what he decides about his future in the offseason. (No hint yet.) Safety Ed Reed's future is also unclear with his contract expiring, so there's a hint of major generational sweep in the air, momentous stuff for the franchise.
It certainly lessens the public's agitation that the Colts are coached this time around by Chuck Pagano, the Ravens' former defensive coordinator and one of the most popular people to walk the halls of the Under Armour Performance Center in recent years. And he's just back from battling leukemia, a personal crucible that dwarfs any game.
There was a time when a visit by the Colts would trump any such considerations, such was the passion it stirred. But time marches on. It's been 29 years since the Colts left. Several generations of fans have grown up without living through what happened. They just don't feel it. Bob Irsay, who moved the team, is long dead, replaced by his son, Jimmy, a more appealing figure.
Plus, the Colts and Ravens have played a dozen games since 1996, with the Colts winning all but three to gain an upper hand. I think things changed here after a 2006 postseason meeting in Baltimore. The Ravens were the higher seed, favored to win, and there was the feeling beforehand that some serious civic demons would soon be exorcised. But the Colts won again, stirring as much disappointment as I have seen in these parts. I think Baltimore decided enough was enough that day, it was time to move on. Carrying a boiling pail of hatred wasn't getting anyone anywhere.
Sure, there are plenty of "never forget" loyalists who will still feel a tug when the Colts jog onto the field Sunday in their classic all-white road uniforms. But Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh fielded questions from the media for 17 minutes Monday, and not once did anyone mention Mayflower vans, Irsay pin-up dolls or what a win would mean to the city. The holy war is over.