“It had been multiple things, from [Robert Griffin III] and the Scot McCloughan fiasco to the Kirk Cousins contract,” said the 33-year-old IT specialist, who, like Simmons, was raised in a Redskins-obsessed household in Prince George’s County. “It was just like chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. That was it. I said, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’”
But Simmons, Nelson and others didn’t just quit on the Redskins. They also started rooting for the franchise that plays about 35 miles north of FedEx Field, the team with the AFC’s best record, the NFL’s leading MVP candidate and a fan base that, at least for now, is having fun watching football.
“I’ve had Ravens fans welcoming me,” said Andy Serwer, the 60-year-old editor in chief of Yahoo Finance, who announced his decision to give up the Redskins in a column last month. “I’ve had other people say they’re standing by the Redskins, but they can’t blame me and it’s hard. No one has accused me of being a rat jumping off a ship, although I suppose that would be apt.”
The erosion of the Redskins’ once-proud fan base has, by all appearances, continued in Allen’s 10th full season as owner Daniel Snyder’s top lieutenant. It’s evident in the sections of empty seats and opposing-team supporters at FedEx Field, as well as the $4 tickets on the secondary market and the season ticket holders who vow they won’t renew. Amid the exodus, a small but seemingly growing contingent of Redskins fans have done the once unthinkable, switching their attention and allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens.
Fox’s broadcast of Baltimore’s win over the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago earned a 12.5 TV rating in the D.C. market, outperforming the 11.7 rating for the Redskins’ win over the Carolina Panthers on CBS in the same 1 p.m. window. The difference was even more pronounced among younger viewers, according to NBC Sports Washington. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is good friends with Allen and has spent years advocating for a Redskins move to the commonwealth, tweeted a photo of himself at the Baltimore game, wearing Ravens gear.
“I am a huge fan of all our area teams,” McAuliffe said via a spokesman.
Two days later, 106.7 the Fan’s Sports Junkies filled a segment with calls from former Redskins fans who claimed they had jumped aboard the Ravens’ bandwagon, along with passionate responses from Redskins fans who said the disaffected turncoats were never true fans in the first place.
The Redskins and Ravens went head-to-head in the 1 p.m. window again Sunday. Washington’s narrow loss to the Green Bay Packers earned an 11.3 rating in the Washington market on Fox, while Baltimore’s win over the Buffalo Bills earned a 7.9 rating on CBS — a narrow gap that would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago.
‘Why be a sucker?’
Serwer, who moved to the D.C. area as an 8-year-old in 1968, can’t pinpoint the moment he determined it was time to break up with his childhood team; rather, it was his gradual realization that he has spent the past two decades playing Charlie Brown to Washington’s football-yanking Lucy.
“You begin to feel like a sucker, right?” Serwer said. “It’s been 20 years. I understand sticking with your team when they’re down, but why be a sucker?”
Indeed, in the 20 full seasons since Snyder bought the team in 1999, the Redskins have made five postseason appearances and won two playoff games. The Ravens have qualified for the postseason 11 times and won a pair of Super Bowls during that span. While Baltimore has been home to the more stable and successful of the area’s NFL franchises since the Cleveland Browns relocated there in 1996, the Ravens have never been particularly likable outside of Charm City, and they have often been just as likely to spark feelings of indifference as envy among Redskins fans.
Lamar Jackson might be changing that. The second-year quarterback has transformed the Ravens into one of the best and, for a change, most exciting teams in the league. Jackson merchandise is the top seller among NFL players on fanatics.com since Nov. 1; Nelson said he ordered a Ravens No. 8 jersey to replace the Redskins gear he gave away this year.
Harry Fox can relate. The 39-year-old grew up going to Redskins games at RFK Stadium with his father and later became a season-ticket holder. He passed his Redskins fandom on to his two sons, ages 8 and 12, and while the losing seasons were painful, Washington’s off-the-field missteps, including McCloughan’s firing, eventually convinced Fox to embrace the Ravens. He bought both of his sons Jackson jerseys ahead of Baltimore’s playoff game last season.
“Sitting there and watching Redskins games with them week after week, I would reflect on my own childhood, like, ‘Dude, this isn’t right,’ ” he said. “ ‘I can’t let these kids grow up like this.’ Now, to watch their faces watching Lamar, I would do it a thousand times over.”
Fox’s friend John Minadakis, owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood in Baltimore, in October even offered an incentive for fans to join the Ravens’ bandwagon: Trade a Redskins jersey for a free crab cake. Minadakis collected 185 Redskins jerseys, which he donated to Goodwill.
“They have to take a united stand together,” Minadakis said of Redskins fans. “… The best way to hurt [ownership] is to go to the team up the street, even if it’s temporary.”
‘I couldn’t justify it anymore’
Some fans are explicitly making the switch for that reason, such as Jon Gore, who spent his formative years as a sports fan in Arlington, Va., after moving to the United States from Africa as an 11-year-old in 1999.
“It felt like a huge football town at the time,” Gore said. “Everyone was super loyal and loved the team.”
Gore returned to Africa after graduating from Boston College in 2009 and has since moved to Berlin, but he continued to follow the Redskins until finally losing patience during a visit to the United States in September. He immediately adopted the Ravens.
“People can stop supporting Snyder and become apathetic, and a lot of my friends have, but what I think would make him more upset is if we jumped ship and started supporting the Ravens with our dollars and then be public about it,” Gore said. “The Ravens being good has been a fantastic bonus, but really sticking it to Snyder is why I made the switch.”
Not everyone finds that possible. Matthew Frownfelter, 36, spent three years living within walking distance of Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, but his loyalty to the Redskins never wavered. Still, he mostly ignored Washington’s win over the Panthers last month in favor of watching Jackson face the 49ers.
“I can root for the Ravens, and I do, but my heart’s still with the Redskins,” Frownfelter said. “I don’t mind if you want to switch teams. That’s your prerogative. You want to be able to watch sports and enjoy it. When you’re watching a perennial loser, it’s just not enjoyable.”
Then there’s Simmons, the 38-year-old who had more personal reasons for becoming a Ravens fan after dumping the Redskins in October. He earned his PhD at Louisville, Jackson’s alma mater, and his 7-year-old son already was becoming a fan of the quarterback. Simmons understands the psychology of sports fandom better than most: He studies it as a professor at the University of Cincinnati, where his research focuses on the intersection of sport and family, specifically the conflict between fan and family roles.
Simmons is a case study of the obsessive and increasingly disgruntled Redskins fan. In September, he cut short a work trip to Spain to be home in time for Washington’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. The following week, he lobbied the commissioner and opposing coach of his son’s youth soccer league to reschedule a Sunday game for Wednesday just so he could watch the Redskins lose to the Dallas Cowboys. Even the most die-hard fans have a breaking point, and for Simmons, it was watching Allen’s news conference in the wake of Gruden’s firing.
“PR blunder after PR blunder got me to the point that the Redskins reflected so negatively on my identity that I was embarrassed to be a fan,” he said. “I couldn’t justify it anymore.”
Simmons boxed up all of the Redskins memorabilia that once filled his basement and muted the team’s beat reporters on Twitter. For more than 30 years, the Redskins were the tightest bond between him and his father. They celebrated Super Bowl victories and traveled to road games together. He wasn’t sure he wanted to pass that fandom on to his son.
“I thought, ‘Do I want to do this to him?’ ” Simmons said. “Not just bringing him into a losing culture, but I don’t want him to ever feel conflicted about something he’s supposed to feel prideful about.”
Some of these newest members of the Ravens flock say they’re just trying to send a message to Snyder. Some say they would come back if Snyder sells the team or at least fires Allen. And some are enjoying their first-place Ravens. Nelson, who reported he has been less stressed since he ditched the Redskins, said his friends are mostly understanding when they find out about his new team.
“They’re first like, ‘Whaaat?!’ And then it’s: ‘Yeah, I get it. I get it,’ ” Nelson said. “I feel like they want to do it, too.”
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