Matt Birk has made his home in Baltimore for nearly four years. Only quarterback Joe Flacco has a longer consecutive games streak among Ravens. The center has played against all but two teams in his 60 games with the Ravens — and the team closest to Baltimore isn't one of them.
That's right, the closest Birk has come to crashing into something with a Washington Redskins logo is when he passes cars with Redskins bumper stickers and license plates around Baltimore.
"I see a lot of Redskins stuff. I'm sure it's the same down there," he said. "I think it's fun for the fans because it is rare. It only happens once every four years. There's a little bit of anticipation."
Sunday, for the first time since 2008, the Ravens and Redskins, whose home stadiums are less than 30 miles apart, will play each other in a regular season game. For many of the fans of each team, the so-called "Battle of the Beltways" is considered to be a rivalry game. But for most of the players, it is just another non-conference game on their 16-game schedule.
"We're so close in proximity, yeah, but I don't really feel like it's a rivalry," said wide receiver LaQuan Williams, who grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Poly then Maryland. "Ravens-Steelers is a bigger rivalry. Redskins-Cowboys is a bigger rivalry. This is just a game for bragging rights."
More importantly, though, playoff position will be at stake Sunday at FedEx Field. The 9-3 Ravens, coming off a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, are chasing a second straight AFC North title and a first-round playoff bye. The 6-6 Washington Redskins are a game back of the 7-5 New York Giants in the NFC East and the 7-5 Seattle Seahawks for the final wild card spot in the NFC.
The last time these teams met — besides usual preseason games — was a Sunday night in December 2008. Both teams were battling for playoff spots then, too, as the Ravens won, 24-10. Their three previous meetings all came in October, with the Ravens taking two of those three.
Ravens and Redskins players actually bump into each other more often off the field than on it.
They hang out at the same venues, eat at the same restaurants and see each other at the same social gatherings. And this past spring, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith and former Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong collaborated on a charity basketball game. Players from both teams exchanged alley-oops in a Team Torrey victory. Another game is in the works for 2013.
"I know a bunch of the guys," said Smith, who grew up in Northern Virginia — Redskins territory — and reminisced this week about attending games at FedEx Field when he was young.
He told stories about meeting the late Redskins safety Sean Taylor in the parking lot and getting snubbed by Redskins great Joe Theismann when he asked for an autograph. Smith says he is not a Redskins fan, but many of his family members are, and they blew up his phone this week.
"It is pretty cool to play against a team that you always saw growing up," said the former Maryland standout.
But personal feelings aside, he stopped short of calling it a rivalry game. Former Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson and guard Chris Chester, who start for the Redskins, say the feeling is mutual.
"We've got a whole division full of rivals. We're not really accepting any more applications for rivals," Wilson said. "The Ravens, when I was up there, we had a whole bunch of rivals in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincy, the Patriots. I don't think they have any more room for rivals either."
Not too long ago, though, coach John Harbaugh started making room for more Ravens fans.
In January 2011, Harbaugh said the Ravens, in their pursuit of more fans, would "take over" Washington. Those comments fanned the fumes of a dormant dislike between the fan bases.
Three months later, after Harbaugh was booed while attending a Washington Capitals game, he again said that the Ravens "want to appeal to that group down there." This summer, at an open practice in Annapolis, he invited Redskins fans to accept the Ravens as their "AFC team."
Harbaugh said this week he wasn't in the business of determining what constitutes a rivalry. He added that every game the Ravens play is important, a statement that Flacco echoed.
"Because [we] are so close, I am sure there will be a lot of people out there that will have a little bit more interest in the game, just based on where the line stops for each of the teams," Flacco added.
And that's why some players would like to see this become a real rivalry. Ed Reed is among them. The safety said he hopes the NFL can find a way to make Ravens-Redskins an annual game.
"I think this is something they should grant to Baltimore and the Redskins," Reed said. "I think it's good for the state, for the city, for both sides rather than go every four years that they do. It's always fun. This is not a division game, but it matters to both of us and we both need it."
But for now, the Ravens and Redskins will only play each other every four years — barring a meeting in the Super Bowl, something that running back Ray Rice said would be "kind of crazy."
With so much turnover in the NFL, most of the players from Sunday's game will move on to new teams before 2016. But their fans aren't going anywhere, which is why it will always be a rivalry to them.
"That's what makes it fun, because you are rooting for this team and your neighbor is rooting for the other team. It just makes it fun for the whole metropolitan area in general. You're going for bragging rights," Birk said. "And if you get them you have them for four years in this rivalry."'
Baltimore Sun reporters Edward Lee and Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times