Ravens and Redskins set to renew the rivalry that isn't

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, chats with Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins after a preseason football game in Baltimore.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, chats with Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins after a preseason football game in Baltimore. (Nick Wass / AP)

It's the border war that ain't, the blood feud that never was.

When the Ravens and Washington Redskins meet on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, they'll do so for just the sixth time since the Ravens began play in 1996.


That's not enough for any real animosity to brew, players said, even if prickly feelings have persisted for generations between Washington and Baltimore.

"Personally, I don't really feel like there's a rivalry-type situation," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "They're not in our conference. Our rivals are the Patriots, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. Those are the teams we really feel something about. Other than that, I think every team is the same."


The view was largely the same from the southern perspective.

"Well, we don't get a chance to play them very often," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We usually play them in the preseason. So I don't know how big it is. But being in such close proximity, I would think there's a natural rivalry there. So I know the fans of both franchises are excited about this game as the players are also."

The Ravens aren't spending their week pondering Baltimore's traditional resentment toward its hoity-toity neighbor. They're worried about fixing their passing game, putting heat on Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and not losing two games in a row at home.

That's life in the NFL, where every game is important and the preparations are highly specific.


Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs is a connoisseur of rivalries. He's probably delivered as many salty words about the Steelers and Patriots as any man in western civilization.

He used the "R" word when asked about the Redskins but only in a jovial way.

"It's a fun rivalry, because they're not in our division or conference, but we're so close," Suggs said. "There's no bad blood between these two teams. We just like to play each other. A couple of years back, we scrimmaged against each other, and we had preseason games against each other. Some people even live down there in Laurel close to them. It's not bad blood, but it's always fun when these two teams get to play actual, real games."

Fellow linebacker Zachary Orr, who has a unique perspective on the issue because his father, Terry, played for the Redskins from 1986 to 1993, essentially agreed.

"It is a rivalry, I guess, for bragging rights," Orr said. "There are Ravens fans in D.C. and Virginia and Redskins fans here in Baltimore. We want to protect the house, but it's not like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or anything. We don't play each other enough for all that."

Fans echoed the players.

"The Ravens-Redskins rivalry, for me, is important purely in terms of bragging rights," said Aditya Dilip, a Ravens fan who lives in Annapolis. "I don't necessarily hate the team as much as Pittsburgh or New England. But we only play once in four years, and the fact that our neighbors and co-workers all support one or the other makes for an interesting week before and week after."

For the record, the Ravens have won three of five against the Redskins, including the first game between the teams on Oct. 26, 1997.

But their last meeting, a 31-28 Redskins victory on Dec. 9, 2012, might have been the most memorable.

Haloti Ngata knocked Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III — then a rookie sensation, how time flies — out of the game when he fell on his legs late in the fourth quarter. Cousins came on in relief and threw a touchdown pass with 29 seconds left, followed by a plunge into the end zone for the game-tying two-point conversion. The Redskins then won it on a field goal in overtime.

The Ravens were a team in crisis at that moment, in the midst of losing four of their last five regular-season games. Coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron the day after the loss in Washington.

Of course, eight weeks later, the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

That's how the comparison goes when you look at what the two franchises have done over the 21 years the Ravens have played in Baltimore.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has lured big-name talent to Washington with big free-agent contracts but often to little effect on the field. The Redskins have gone 142-181 in their years sharing a metropolis with the Ravens and have never advanced past the divisional round in five postseason appearances. Snyder has run through eight coaches since 1999, including glitzy names such as Mike Shanahan and Steve Spurrier.

The Ravens, by contrast, are regarded as a model of understated stability in NFL circles. They build through the draft, make coaching changes reluctantly and have gone 176-147 with two Super Bowl wins since arriving in Baltimore.

The unflattering comparison is familiar to old-school Washington football fans who remember the Baltimore Colts beating up on their sorry Redskins in the 1960s.

"Basically, there's really no rivalry between the Ravens and the Redskins, except territorial bragging rights," said Redskins historian Mike Richman, author of two books on the franchise. "And there was never really a rivalry between the Colts and Redskins because the Johnny Unitas-led Colts dominated for so many years."

The Colts went 15-5 against their neighbors to the south, including a nine-game winning streak that lasted from 1960 until 1973. Unitas and Co. drubbed the Redskins by scores of 45-17, 38-7 and 41-17 during that span.

That dynamic slowly changed in the 1970s as the Redskins became winners again under coach George Allen. And it flipped completely in the 1980s, when the Colts fled Baltimore and the Redskins, under Joe Gibbs, became one of the NFL's dominant franchises.

Plenty of former Colts fans shifted their loyalties to Washington as the Redskins won three Super Bowls between 1982 and 1991.

The franchise's allure remains apparent in border counties such as Anne Arundel and Howard, where the burgundy and gold is as visible as the purple and black.

And yet without regular, high-stakes meetings to stoke passions, Ravens-Redskins doesn't carry much weight in pure football terms.

It certainly comes with less tension than the baseball rivalry between the Orioles and Washington Nationals. Those teams not only meet every year on the field, they're locked in a legal battle over apportioning ownership of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. That dispute has made Orioles owner Peter Angelos a villain to Washington fans.

There is no NFL equivalent.

"It's tough to call it a rivalry," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I know that [we get asked] obviously, just because of the proximity of them to us and the people around here, but it's really tough to feel it."