Washington-Baltimore Should Be a Hatefest for the Ages

By Heller, Dick | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 25, 1997 | Go to article overview

Washington-Baltimore Should Be a Hatefest for the Ages


Heller, Dick, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Say the words slowly, savoring the sound as they roll off the tongue: Washington vs. Baltimore. It sounds so natural - and so unnatural.

These are two proud, antagonistic cities just 40 miles apart but as different as can be. We sneer at Baltimore as a provincial, blue-collar burg. Baltimore hates us as a city full of supercilious suits who don't know how the real world and real people live.

No matter what the Census Bureau computers tell us, Washington and Baltimore are not one megalopolis. Perish the thought! You'd have better luck convincing Dublin and Belfast that they're a big, happy family.

What more could you want in a rivalry? This should be the biggest athletic hatefest since the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Yet when the Redskins and Ravens meet tomorrow at The Big Jack, it will be the first time in 16 long years that warriors representing us and them have dueled in a major sport.

The date was Dec. 13, 1981, and the Redskins were beating the Colts 38-14 at RFK Stadium. Just over two years later, owner Robert Irsay spirited the Colts off to Indianapolis on a snowy night in early spring, and Washington vs. Baltimore was only a sporting memory. Until now.

The baseball version of this feud ended in 1972 after the expansion Senators moved to Texas. Both towns were members of the NBA only from 1947 to 1951, when the original Washington Capitols folded. It didn't help inter-city relations when Abe Pollin shifted the Baltimore Bullets to Washington in 1973-74.

So the dislike between the cities simmered and stewed without outward expression. In 1979, Washington criminal lawyer Edward Bennett Williams bought the Orioles - to move them to RFK Stadium, many Baltimoreans were sure. But an unexpected pennant in '79 fueled widespread local interest in the O's, who shrewdly marketed themselves as a regional team. By 1992, when Camden Yards opened off I-95 on the southern edge of Baltimore, as much as 25 to 30 percent of their burgeoning attendance came from the Washington area.

In football, however, there's no way Baltimoreans could embrace the Redskins. That would be almost as bad as rooting for Irsay's Indianapolis Colts.

"The Redskins could have built a stadium downtown and let everybody in free - they still wouldn't have drawn a crowd," says veteran Baltimore sports columnist John Steadman, whose new book "From Colts to Ravens" traces the history of pro football in Charm City. "Jack Kent Cooke never understood that. When he was trying to build a stadium in Laurel, he thought a lot of Baltimore people would become Redskins fans. He was wrong."

The attitude of many older Baltimoreans prevents them from rooting for D.C. teams. Many remember how George Preston Marshall, the Redskins' acrimonious owner, used to talk down their town. …

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