I’ve got this weird theory that the Washington area is about 50 percent Redskins fans, 25 percent Cowboys fans and five percent fans of the Ravens, Steelers, Giants and Eagles. Those are completely made-up numbers, and leave only 5 percent for fans of the NFL’s various other teams, which doesn’t make much sense in such a transient area. (See editor’s note below on the results of a Post poll from 2011)
But the numbers aren’t really the point so much as that when you go into a store in the area that sells NFL products, you’ll almost always see lots of Redskins items, followed by things bearing the logos of those five teams. Take a look sometime. It’s true.
And so I’ve come to believe that while this is no doubt a Redskins region, the games are a little more heated when the Redskins play one of those five teams, because there are so many of the opposing teams’ fans in the Redskins’ fans faces. Whether that’s because teams like the Steelers and Giants have won recent championships and keep their bandwagons full, or because the Ravens and Eagles have recognizable stars and are almost always competitive, or whether it has to do with geography or demographics or the history of race relations in Washington (re: the Cowboys), it often seems there are as many non-Redskins fans in town as there are Redskins fans.
In the case of the Steelers, though, the rivalry with the Redskins is almost 100 percent off-the-field. The rivalry is mostly between fans, since the teams barely ever play each other. The franchises have met 76 times, but Sunday’s game will be just the sixth meeting since 1991. If you can’t remember the last time they played a great game, it’s because the last three involved the Redskins scoring six, three and seven points. You’d have to go back to 1997′s 14-13 game for the last dramatic finish and 1991 for the last Redskins win.
But there might be bad blood between you and the Steelers if you recall the Monday night game of Nov. 3, 2008. The Pittsburgh invasion was big enough news that Dan Steinberg wrote about it for Wednesday’s editions that week, and Michael Wilbon for Thursday. George Solomon wrote about it on Nov. 16. Perhaps that low point inspired Redskins fans to later on try to sell seats to other Redskins fans, or played some small role in FedEx Field’s reduction of available capacity over the past few years. In any case, it stands in my mind as the only sign of a Steelers-Redskins rivalry.
Yet it might feel like there’s a competition, because we run into our fair share of Steelers fans living here, probably moreso the further north into Maryland you get. By the time you hit York, Pa., the local Dick’s Sporting Goods sells Steelers and Ravens jerseys 50-50, with no sign of the Eagles or the Redskins, who presumably once had a Pennsylvania-based fan base from having training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
I’m sure others have put greater effort into understanding where the lines of demarcation are for NFL fan bases, especially in Maryland, which has the Redskins and Ravens stadiums about 30 miles apart. I’m sure if your memory stretches back far enough, there have been competitive moments between the Redskins and Steelers, despite being separated in the NFC and AFC and these days only playing once every four seasons.
That’s all a long way of asking if my original theory holds any water: Do you, as Redskins fans, get a little more fired up to play the Steelers? If so, why? Because they’re successful? Because they have an annoying (and large, and nearby) fanbase that likes to remind you how many titles the franchise has won? Is Redskins-Steelers even a rivalry in the true sense of the word?
Since a lot of you check in from around the country, please share in the comments your perceptions of the Redskins and Steelers fanbases wherever you are.
And one last thing: Where do the Steelers rank on your dislike meter? If I may assume that the Cowboys are No. 1, with the Giants and Eagles battling for second, would the Ravens and Steelers come next? Would some other team that the Redskins play often — say, the Rams — come next? There are no wrong answers, as we all have our teams we love and teams we can’t stand, for reasons rational and irrational.
Have at it.
Editor’s note: A Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone and online July 29 to Aug 29, 2011, among a random sample of 1,010 adult residents of the Washington metro area. On the question of “What is your favorite NFL team?” here were the results:
- Washington Redskins — 48%
- Baltimore Ravens – 6%
- Dallas Cowboys – 6%
- New England Patriots – 5%
- Pittsburgh Steelers – 5%
- Philadelphia Eagles – 3%
- New York Giants – 2%
- Indianapolis Colts – 2%
- Green Bay Packers – 1%
- Chicago Bears – 1%
- Other – 12%
- None – 10%