Harbaugh eyes cordial rivalry with Redskins

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens play host to the Washington Redskins in Saturday's preseason game, it's the renewal of what many call the Battle of the Beltways.

The Ravens typically see it as another platform to expand their influence down south.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh even suggested this week that Redskins fans adopt the Ravens as their secondary team.

"We love the ‘Beltway [Battle]’ rivalry thing," Harbaugh said. "We only play them once every four years in the regular season, but our players know their players; our fans know their fans. Like I’ve said many times before, we’d love for all the Redskins fans to have their AFC team be the Ravens, to have that kind of a regional feeling about one another. That would be the best thing."

This isn't the first time the Ravens have extended a friendly hand to their NFL neighbor's fans. In recent years, Harbaugh and Ravens players have asked Redskins fans to make the Ravens their AFC alternative, whether it's when the teams play or when the Ravens reach the playoffs (and the Redskins don't).

It makes perfect business sense for the the Ravens to capitalize on the fact that their long run of success has coincided with the extended struggles of the Redskins. The Ravens openly courted suburban Washington fans, holding an open training camp practice at the Naval Academy in Anne Arundel County (which includes both Ravens and Redskins fans), putting preseason games on Washington television and airing regular-season games on a Washington FM station.

Harbaugh sounds like he's becoming a Redskins fan, although I believe the San Francisco 49ers remain his NFC team based on bloodlines.

"I watched them play [this past week]," Harbaugh said of the Redskins. "They’re a very good football team. [Redskins head coach] Jay Gruden does a great job. We’ve seen him in [our] division for a number of years. [Redskins defensive coordinator] Jim Haslett -- he brings it from about every direction you can bring it with the pressures and things. [They have] a lot of good players. It’ll be a fun game.”

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith understands the regional rivalry between the two NFL teams better than most. He grew up in Virginia and went to college at the University of Maryland, which sits along the Washington beltway.

"I already got phone calls [and] people [are] talking trash, so it’s always fun to see [my family react]," Smith said.

Smith, though, never considered himself a fan of the burgundy and gold growing up.

"I went up to a Skins game before [and] I asked Joe Theismann for an autograph," Smith remembered. "He said, ‘No.'"