Saturday’s preseason game between the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens is simply that: a preseason game, a mere exhibition contest for first team starters to flash a few highlights and a “Show-Me” showcase for scrappy rookies and desperate veterans. But for the fans of both teams, separated by a 45-minute drive on Interstate 295, the game is much more. It’s a “Brag Bowl” for football fans of both clubs who rarely get a chance to butt heads with their beltway rivals.

The Redskins and Ravens only play once every four regular seasons due to the current conference setup in the NFL. So preseason contests between the clubs serve as the fans’ appetizer while the pecking order in the league runs its course.

Similar to New York’s pair of counter conference teams in the Jets and Giants, who also meet once every four years, the preseason serves as the two cities’ annual gridiron boxing ring. Aside from their regular season meetings in ‘04 and ‘08, Washington and Baltimore have met every preseason since 2003.

While local radio stations, barbershops and nearby sports bars refer to it as a rivalry, the numbers suggest otherwise. Including both regular season meetings and preseason games, the Ravens lead the series, 6-1, dating back to ’03 and shutout Washington 23-0 last August. But even with a losing record in the Battle of the Beltway, Redskins fans remain optimistic. They point to the Easter addition of longtime Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb as a source of inspiration.

Ravens fans, however, are quick to counter with their own signal caller-on-the-rise in third-year man Joe Flacco. The two teams will trout out their high-priced stars on Saturday.

“There’s always been a behind-the-scenes rivalry with the D.C. area for us,” says 28-year-old Baltimore native and Ravens fan Charles Williams. “It’s not a New York/New Jersey or a Boston/Los Angeles type of affair though. It’s not a widely understood thing; it’s really just more with the residents. Anything remotely close to competitive, whether it’s the baseball teams or a high school game, we both want those bragging rights.”

Bragging rights will be on the line this weekend when the Ravens visit Landover’s FedEx Field. NFL pundits will cautiously point out that the preseason is nothing more than a series of tune-ups for teams as they ready for the regular season. And to a certain degree, the pundits would be right. But a deeper look into the game and one trip down Interstate 295 is all it takes to realize it’s certainly much more at stake.

“It’s strange really. It’s one of those rivalries that probably means more to the fans than it does to the teams,” says 33-year-old D.C. native and Redskins fan Chief Honesty-Bay. “Baltimore and D.C. had to share teams for a while before both cities got their teams in place. Before the Nationals came, a lot of people here followed the Orioles and before the Ravens came, the local football games being aired in Baltimore were Redskin and Steelers games. So now that both cities have their teams in place, we can battle.”


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO