The Washington Redskins host the Baltimore Ravens this Saturday night for a glorified practice. To suggest bragging rights are even slightly on the line would be overstating it. Preseason games just don't carry any weight for those types of things.
That said, there will plenty of purple jerseys at FedEx on Saturday and there will be plenty of trash talking between fans in the parking lot and inside the stadium. But why? The Redskins already have an arch-rival in the Dallas Cowgirls. The Ravens have their own bitter rivals (Pittsburgh and Cleveland, though Cleveland hates Baltimore more than Baltimore hates Cleveland). Could it be that there are fringe rivalries for our home teams that are either just in the budding stages or have been ignored by their respective leagues and fans (whether it be just recently or altogether)? Here are the matchups that either need to be more closely watched or simply must be addressed.
No. 1: Washington Redskins vs. Baltimore Ravens (rivalry not yet established)
The NFL gets so much right in the eyes of the fans--it is truly a Golden Age for football fanatics. Every game is neatly packaged and delivered right into our homes, to be viewed in all of its HD glory. The league blatantly caters to both Vegas and the fantasy community. The storylines (especially in August) are always compelling and the characters provide infinite entertainment.
Yet--and I hope I am not just being a complainer here--how in God's name does the NFL fail to schedule an annual tilt between the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens? This seems so simple and obvious that you would think the people behind 100 foot HD video boards and $9 beers would have thought of it already.
I understand the formula for the NFL schedule. It makes perfect sense: six games in your own division, four games against an out-of-conference division, four games against a division in your own conference and the last two against the teams that finished in the same place as you did in the other two in-conference divisions you aren't already playing. Based on that, every team knows all of its opponents except for two for years to come.
Assuming for a moment that the league will run into resistance to move to an 18-game schedule, here is what I propose: take those last two games and turn one into a regional rivalry game, and take the other game and schedule it based on overall league standing. Rank every team from 1 to 32, and then set it up so that #1 plays #2, #3 plays #4, etc. I think it makes sense to add in the rule that division opponents can not play each other a third time, so in any instance where that would occur, you just take the next available team. But if that adds a second out-of-conference game against the same team, so be it. If that adds a second game against your regional rival, so be it. If you are that concerned with how this unbalanced schedule would affect playoff qualification, add an extra wild card team or two to each conference. Let that be where you add in an extra game to the NFL calendar.
Where there is not a natural regional rivalry, let the NFL figure out the best option and then stick with it for a decade. There will be a rivalry there eventually.
An annual date for the Redskins and Ravens on the NFL calendar belongs in the fall or winter, not in the summer. Football and crab cakes, right? That's what Maryland does, right? This game would have a college football feel to it quickly. It would divide families and communities up and down I-95. The game would establish bragging rights among fans every year. Above all else, it would be fun. How is this not a winning idea?
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers (rivalry under-looked as of late)
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals are not just rivals, they also happen to be two of the best teams in the NHL these days. This rivalry gets the respect it is due and when these teams play, everyone watches.
But from the 70's through the 90's, it was the Flyers and Caps that really seemed to have all the heat. The emergence of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have made people forget quickly the bitterness that existed (exists?) between the Flyers and Caps.
Is it possible we don't hate on Philly like we used to? That can't be right. Flyers fans are as annoying today as they ever were. Caps fans today as ardent followers of the game as they ever were. The Pittsburgh rivalry is not enough for me. Is there anyone out there who went to games at the Cap Center in Landover in the late 70's and early 80's who can set me straight on this (I was too young)? Surely we can hearken back to a time when this series packed more of a punch.
No. 3 Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (rivalry that just might not be a rivalry)
I am grasping at straws a little here. We have been so bad for so long that there is little evidence of any actual animosity between the Wizards and just about anyone.
But in 2006 things started to heat up just a little between the Cavs and the Wiz. The Cavs won the series 4-2 on the strength of multiple one-point overtime victories. The following two seasons, the Cavs knocked the Wizards (and Soulja Boy) out of the playoffs. A bit one-sided ... yes.
But if there was ever a time to kick some sand and antagonize a franchise, it has to be right after they lose a Lebron James, right? You figure someone is going to have to be responsible for the misery of every Cleveland Cavs fans for the next decade. Why shouldn't that someone be John Wall? I'm just saying.
No. 4 Washington Nationals vs. Philadelphia Phillies (rivalry the Nats need to play up to)
Much like the Wiz, the Nats have just not been hot enough to make any major waves in the NL East. The Beltway Series (the name given to the rivalry games played between the O's and the Nats) is only 30 games old, but has all the makings for trash talking rights for decades to come. The O's hold the current edge 16-14.
But in baseball, you play division opponents 19 times (I believe that is right). That adds up to19 chances to tune into a great rivalry game. The proximity of the Philly team and their fans makes this a natural second rivalry for the Nats.
But for this matchup to have any meaning at all, we have to be able to beat the Phillies regularly and at some point we have to be the reason they either miss the playoffs or get knocked out of the playoffs. That's a tall order indeed.
No. 5 D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire (fringe rivalry that could use some love)
The D.C. United organization has a great rivalry established with the New York Red Bulls. They even have a trophy awarded to the team that wins the regular season series between these two squads (The Atlantic Cup). D.C. United has won four out of six Atlantic Cups since they started handing out the trophy, and this rivalry is considered the most bitter rivalry in Major League Soccer.
But I recall that in the formative years of Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the Fire seemed to always meet up in the playoffs. Neither franchise is playing lights-out these days, and to be honest, the mere suggestion that we need to drum up an additional rivalry for our professional soccer team in town seems more than a little ludicrous. But hey, that is why they pay me the big pesos.