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Commentary: Not a rivalry game (but a big game anyway)

Rivalries are for teams that play more than once every four years. For teams with histories. For teams that really don't like each other.

Think Ravens-Steelers. Or Redskins-Cowboys.

The Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins do not have a rivalry. Despite their close proximity, they rarely face each other and, when they do, the game is, in truth, one of the least important of the year as the Ravens and Redskins aren't even in the same conference.

Just don't try convincing fans of this. They've been looking forward to today's matchup for a long time and, suddenly, it looks like it might be worth the hype.

Fans of Baltimore teams, of course, just flat-out don't like Washington. Never have. Not when the Colts were beating the Redskins during their occasional meetings. Not when D.C. stole the Bullets. And not when the Orioles ruled the majors and took great pleasure in beating up on the Senators, who truly earned the motto "Washington: First in war, first in peace, last in the American League."

Baltimore fans are provincial. They never feel their players or teams are given their due and, of course, it's pretty tough when one of the most important cities in the world is 40 miles away and your city, well, it's not one of the most important in the world.

Washington fans, on the other hand, generally don't give Charm City or its teams too much thought.

The Nationals haven't built up enough of a fan base yet to keep Orioles fans from overwhelming them even in Nationals Park. Baltimore doesn't have an NHL or NBA team - although it could be argued that, right now, Washington doesn't either.

And then there's the Redskins-Ravens "rivalry," such that it is.

It exists for Redskins fans only because they have gotten really, really tired of their friends and co-workers, who pull on their purple jerseys every Friday through Sunday, eager to remind the Redskins fans that, in fact, Baltimore has been to the playoffs four years in a row (Washington has not), Baltimore has won a Super Bowl this millennium (Washington has not), and Baltimore has been one of the most stable and well-run franchises in the NFL (Washington, most definitely, has not).

Frankly, they're a little sick of hearing about the Ravens, but they've had to keep largely quiet through nearly the entire existence of the Ravens, a pretty dark period of Redskins history that's included incompetent coaches (Norv Turner, Steve Spurrier, Jim Zorn) and a parade of low-rent quarterbacks that would make even the Ravens' pre-Joe Flacco QBs look pretty good.

It all prompted one colleague, a lifelong Redskins fan, to admit last Monday, hours before a huge game against the NFC East rival-Giants, that if he had to pick one game to win, it would not be the one against the Giants but rather the one against Baltimore, so tired was he of his neighbors' reveling in all things Raven.

Redskins fans need be quiet no longer.

Not with the single most exciting player in the NFL wearing the burgundy and gold.

The collective mood of the franchise and Redskins Nation changed when Washington drafted quarterback Robert Griffin III, the sorry recent history immediately forgotten and replaced with unbridled optimism that has only grown as they've watched Griffin turn into a superstar.

Smart, accurate, unbelievably quick and fast, and an immediate success, Griffin has the Redskins thinking multiple championships once the rest of the roster is filled in around him, and thinking playoffs this season.

Which brings us today's "rivalry" game. The two teams, their stadiums separated by just a short stretch of I-95 apart, have a limited history against each other. Four rather forgettable games. Three have been won by Baltimore, the fourth came during that stretch in 2000 when the Ravens couldn't score a touchdown.

Fans circled this game as soon as the schedule was released, but it didn't figure to mean much with the Ravens picked to win the AFC North and the Redskins expected to bring up the rear of the NFC East.

Even halfway through the season the game looked uninteresting, as the Ravens ran out to one of the best records in the league and the Redskins assumed their usual sub-.500 position.

But the Redskins are now red-hot, coming off big wins over the Cowboys and Giants, and have put themselves not only in the wildcard hunt but also in the thick of the division race.

And the Ravens made things far more interesting by losing at home to the Steelers last week.

Suddenly, this neighborhood showdown looks anything but inconsequential.

No, it's not a division game. It's not a conference game. And for the teams involved, it's definitely not a rivalry game.

But it's a big, big, big game. Which the fans knew all along.

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