Eisenberg:  Redskins No Longer A Major Rival

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Which of the Ravens' rivals do the fans dislike the most? I would say it's the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fifteen years of a home-and-home division rivalry has made the ever-tough black-and-gold Public Enemy No. 1 around here.

For some, it's the Indianapolis Colts. I have never seen Baltimore more electrified than it was before the former Baltimores came to town for a divisional playoff in 2006. A victory was going to represent the payoff for long-held civic frustrations. But the Colts won. The Colts always win, having taken eight straight regular season and postseason games from the Ravens going back to 2002. That has taken some of the bite out of local attitudes. If the Ravens ever beat the Colts, fans won't cheer lustily so much as just sigh and say, "Whew, finally."

In any case, there's no doubt the Steelers and Colts are the local MLOs (Most Loathed Opponents). Who comes after that? It should be the Washington Redskins, who reside just down I-95 and, once upon a time, had an owner who conspired to keep NFL football from returning to Baltimore after the Colts' departure.

But I don't hear much overt hatred of the Redskins coming from Ravens fans these days. There's no hard data to support the position, but it sure seems pro football's Battle of the Beltways is producing less spittle than one might have expected years ago.

I would submit that Ravens fans would rather have a win over Bill Belichick's Patriots or Marvin Lewis' Bengals than the Redskins. The thrill is gone to some degree, if it ever was there.

This is partly due to sheer unfamiliarity, the simple fact that the teams are not only in different divisions, but also in different conferences. Although they will play a preseason game for the fifth time in six years Saturday night at FedEx Field, they have only met four times in the regular season since the Ravens kicked off in 1996.

Just as years of playing twice every season has increased the rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers, years of not playing has toned things down between Baltimore and Washington. (It goes without saying that Redskins fans would rather beat the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and probably a few other teams more than the Ravens.)

There's also the fact that, let's face it, the Redskins haven't given Ravens fans much to care about lately. The Redskins have spent a ton of money on free agents under owner Damn [Freudian slip?] Snyder but still have fallen on hard times, qualifying for the playoffs just once since the 2000 season. In the same period, the Ravens have made the playoffs six times, won two division titles and captured a Super Bowl.

Of the four regular season games between the teams, the Redskins have won just one, in 2000, the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing Ravens fans can't get that fired up about a team that has beaten them just once -- ever.

True, the Redskins' fortunes could be about to change with Mike Shanahan, a two-time Super Bowl winner, as their head coach. That was a good hire. Look for an immediate improvement from last year's dismal 4-12 record, especially with Donovan McNabb at quarterback.

But the Ravens don't play the new-look Redskins during the regular season this year, and in fact, aren't scheduled to play them again until 2012. As a result, whatever fate befalls the Redskins will continue to be a back-burner issue at best in Baltimore, especially compared to more pressing front-burner opponent issues such as the latest on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's behavior.

Once upon a time, Baltimore fans were very worked up about the Redskins, whose owner, Jack Kent Cooke, didn't want to share the Mid-Atlantic market and worked the league's back corridors to ensure that he didn't. There was a period when Redskins games were force-fed to local fans on TV. A dark period, indeed.

But Cooke died 13 years ago. The time to get over him and his politics has long passed. And he obviously was wrong about this market's ability to support two teams.

Baltimore fans definitely relish the Ravens' clear superiority over the Redskins – take great satisfaction in it, no doubt. But something new and dire needs to happen for the Redskins to become a big-time public enemy around here again.

John Eisenberg covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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