Local Rivals Scrap for Backyard Supremacy

Quarterback Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts often had their way with the Redskins. Between 1953 and 1970, Baltimore won 13 of 16 matchups with Washington.
Quarterback Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts often had their way with the Redskins. Between 1953 and 1970, Baltimore won 13 of 16 matchups with Washington. (1963 Photo By John Rous -- Associated Press)
By George Solomon
Sunday, December 7, 2008

A rival, according to Webster's New World Dictionary, is a person who tries "to get or do the same thing as another, or to equal or surpass another."

A backyard rival?

I couldn't find such a definition, but if sports history is an indicator, what we have is the fiercest level of athletic competition involving teams in close proximity, such as the New York Yankees-Mets baseball rivalry, Duke-North Carolina in basketball, and Southern Cal-UCLA and Florida-Florida State in college football.

To localize the point, we had Army-Navy in Philadelphia yesterday, the Washington Redskins traveling up the road to Baltimore to meet the Ravens tonight at M&T Bank Stadium and Maryland playing George Washington in the nightcap (approximately 7:30) of the 14th annual BB&T Classic tonight at Verizon Center.

Over the years, John Thompson has minimized the importance of local rivalries -- and he did so again Monday on his radio show. After Georgetown, coached by son John Thompson III, crushed the Terrapins, 75-48, for third place in the Old Spice Classic on Sunday night, he said, "No one is talking about this game."

If Thompson dismisses local matchups, George Washington Athletic Director Jack Kvancz welcomes them. "I love them, the fans love them and so do the players," he said.

Besides tonight's game with Maryland, the Colonials have American (Dec. 17) on their schedule as well as George Mason next year, and would love a date with Georgetown "anytime, any place" and a matchup with Howard "if we could fit them in around our conference commitments," Kvancz said.

Tonight's doubleheader (Virginia Tech and Navy meet in the 5 p.m. opener) isn't likely to pack the house after the NFL two weeks ago moved the Redskins-Ravens game to the featured 8:15 slot on NBC. Empty seats will provide more fuel to Thompson's position, although no one envisions caravans of cars with Redskins flags heading to Baltimore.

That's the way it once was, when the Redskins and the Baltimore Colts engaged in a heated rivalry that, although one-sided in the Colts' favor, generated great passion among fans of both teams for almost three decades. Many Baltimoreans simply disliked Washingtonians and savored the domination by the Colts.

"Fans of both teams loved the competition," recalled Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback-turned broadcaster Sonny Jurgensen. "But on the field it wasn't much of a rivalry. Actually, it was more of a mismatch. The Colts, with Johnny Unitas, Artie Donovan, Gino Marchetti and Big Daddy Lipscomb, were truly exceptional."

Jurgensen, who joined the Redskins in a trade from Philadelphia in 1964, went 0-5 against the Unitas-led Colts. From 1953 to 1970, when the Colts joined the AFC as part of the merger of the National Football League and American Football League, the Redskins won only three of 16 games against Baltimore.

"I remember those Baltimore guys from my first preseason game in Hershey as a rookie [1957] with the Eagles," Jurgensen said. "I was scrambling for my life when Donovan and Marchetti clobbered me out of bounds. One of them told me, 'Don't you ever cross the line of scrimmage again.'

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