On the third day of training camp this summer, the Redskins' LaVar Arrington was approached by fans and asked about how excited he was to face fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis in Week 5. Arrington, with a broad smile on his face, responded that he could not wait, because "then everybody will get to see who the best linebacker is."
Arrington's career has been overshadowed by Lewis, who is generally considered among the best inside linebackers in the history of the game, and a knee injury prevented Arrington from getting a chance to match Lewis last night, as he sat out Washington's game against Baltimore at FedEx Field. Arrington has missed three straight games after undergoing minor surgery on his right knee, losing an opportunity to face the player he is often measured against.
The comparisons between the players are common, especially considering the proximity of the two franchises, but Lewis is a two-time NFL defensive player of the year and was the MVP in the Ravens' Super Bowl win in 2001. Arrington has made the Pro Bowl three straight years but was being compared to the game's all-time greats when he came into the league from Penn State.
During a lengthy preseason interview, Arrington said that the fact that Lewis has enjoyed a stronger supporting cast for much of his career and overcame serious legal problems are at least partly responsible for the mystique surrounding him. Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, receiving a sentence of 12 months' probation and agreeing to testify against two co-defendants in connection with a 2000 murder case in Atlanta.
"I'm playing in the era Ray Lewis is playing in, and Ray is a great player," Arrington said in late August, "one of the greatest of all time, no doubt. But look at the defense around him. . . . They have one of the best defenses ever and you know, I hate to say it, but it's easy to build somebody up that has had personal problems like that. I don't have those flaws; I don't have that on my record, and it just doesn't make as much headlines to sit and talk about somebody who has had a clean record and doesn't get in trouble. It's just not a great story."
Bowen Injures Knee
Starting safety Matt Bowen suffered a right knee injury covering a punt early in the first quarter last night and did not return. Bowen will probably have an MRI exam today. He was unavailable for comment after the game.
Bowen's injury forced inexperienced Ryan Clark onto the field much earlier than usual. But Clark suffered a sprained ankle with four minutes to go in the game, although the injury is not believed to be serious.
The Redskins were again without linebacker Mike Barrow, who has yet to play because of a torn tendon in his left knee, and defensive end Phillip Daniels (groin tear), who may be able to play next week in Chicago. Safety Andre Lott (hamstring) missed his second straight game. Offensive lineman Mark Wilson, wide receiver Darnerien McCants and H-back Brian Kozlowski were inactive for the game.
Washington made two changes to its starting lineup from last week. Kenyatta Jones started at right tackle for the first time since Week 1, taking over for veteran Ray Brown. Demetric Evans started for Ron Warner at right end. Warner and Brown both suffered nagging injuries last week.
Baltimore was without three of its top offensive players because of injuries -- Pro Bowl right end Todd Heap, receiver Travis Taylor and starting center Mike Flynn. Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware has yet to play this season because of injury.
A Game to Talk About
There no doubt will be some trash-talking between Ravens fans and Redskins fans today, but the players on both teams expect to get in some shots as well. It is common for members of the two teams to come into contact during charity or social events, they said, and given the infrequency of these games, bragging rights can linger for quite a long time.
"These are the same guys I could see any day walking around the city," Redskins safety Fred Smoot said, "so, yeah, it's that type rivalry, man. You don't ever want to let your neighbor beat you. You can run into a Raven at any time. It's just like running into a Wizard; its going to happen so point blank when you do run into them you want to have the bragging rights."
Smoot gave his mentor, former Redskins cornerback Deion Sanders, a big hug during pregame warmups. Sanders, who came out of retirement to sign with Baltimore, recovered from his hamstring injury and played last night. Sanders and Smoot still talk often, and are known for their quick wit.