This week, your Washington Redskins travel the 65 highway miles from Ashburn, VA to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. (Up to two hours in traffic according to Google Maps, thanks to what Forbes Magazine names the Most Congested Road System of 2008!)
Whenever this happens, people start making reference to things like “the Battle of the Beltway” or the Beltway Battle. (The same thing apparently happens when the Nationals play the Orioles, but I never noticed, because it’s the Nationals and the Orioles.) Burger King and ESPN980 are even having some sort of contest focusing around the name, so it seems safe to say it’s a pretty widespread usage.
But here’s the thing: both of those names are completely nonsensical for Baltimore/Washington matchups.
A quick geography lesson, for those of you outside the Baltimore/Washington corridor: on the map above (click on it for a larger image), the circular road in the upper right hand corner with the interstate number 695 is the Baltimore Beltway. In the lower left, with the interstate number 495, is Washington, D.C.’s Capital Beltway. As with most roads designated “beltways,” each of these is an example of what city planners apparently refer to as an “orbital distributor road” — that is, highway that orbits a city and distributes traffic along various intracity routes.
So, yes, both Baltimore and Washington HAVE beltways, but so do literally dozens of cities worldwide, and if the Brazilian National Team were to face off against the Kansas City Brigade in some sort of bizarre soccer/Arena Football hybrid game, no one is going to call it “the Battle of the Beltway”.
The Washington and Baltimore beltways both intersect with I-95, but that seems an awfully tenous basis for naming a football game. Besides, if you were going to use a road connecting the two cities as your basis for the name, wouldn’t you use state road 295 as your choice? It’s called the Baltimore/Washington Parkway, after all, and you could go with something like “Parkway Party” or “Prize Fight on the Parkway” or something. (The logo of Stet Sports Blog uses the BW Parkway road sign to generate a similar effect.)
Anyhow, I realize that this is largely an issue of semantics, and it’s quite possible that no one on Earth besides me cares, but I asked around to see if anyone could offer a better alternative. Some of the suggestions were terrible, and others were clever but inaccurate. (“Friction at the Mason/Dixon,” for example, works great for a Pennsylvania/Maryland matchup, but not as well for two teams who are both located in what used to be Dixie.)
Shawn Springs, who grew up in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., went with the basics: “Battle of I-95, I guess,” he said. “Makes more sense to me.” It makes sense, yes, but it lacks that certain punchiness that T-shirt slogans generally require.
Director of Sports Medicine Bubba Tyer took a similar route: “Battle of the BeltwayS,” he said. “695 and 495.” Which does work, and would certainly be easier on Burger King and the other people who would need to change materials over, but which wasn’t quite the dramatic revision I had hoped for.
“Technically speaking, if you want to get technical,” Todd Yoder said, “it could be the Battle of Maryland. Because our home stadium is in Maryland.”
But the training facility is in Virginia, and the team’s name and affiliation are with D.C., I pointed out.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Yoder.
Chris Samuels suggested “Battle of the Tri-State,” and Yoder shrugged.
“I’m cool with that, but I’m just saying, we both play home games in Maryland. You could bring it back to the ‘Battle of the Home Game in Maryland’, I guess.”
As far as Samuels’s suggestion, there are two major problems: first, it’s a bit non-specific. There are 62 places in America where three (and only three) states meet, almost all of which are referred to with some for of “tri-state area”. And, second, there’s the minor issue of D.C.’s statehood (or lack thereof) to consider.
“Battle of the DMV,” Devin Thomas offered, confidently. I initially thought he was referring to Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which doesn’t work for a whole variety of reasons, not least because Maryland’s version of the DMV is referred to as the MVA. Someone pointed out that he probably meant D.C./Maryland/Virginia, but that it was a term used to refer mostly to the D.C./Northern Virginia corridor in the go-go music community and didn’t usually encompass Baltimore. Still, nice effort.
Then Fred Smoot showed up, which usually is how stories like this end. Smoot gives one of his trademark witty answers, everyone laughs, and the problem is resolved. So I asked him.
“That’s a good question,” Smoot said. He paused.
You have to understand, Fred Smoot does not ordinarily pause. No matter what question is put to him, dumb or clever, ordinary or off-beat, whatever Fred Smoot answer you read, it was probably delivered almost instantly, off-the-cuff, and with impeccable comic timing. So this came as a bit of a shock.
“Let me think about it for a bit,” he said, and walked away.
I turned to Carlos Rogers, who thought for a few seconds and shook his head. “If Smoot didn’t have anything to say, that’s a tough one.”
Casey Rabach offered up “Crosstown Rivals,” and then the floodgates opened from people walking by. Suggestions included “Static in the Mid-Atlantic,” “Fracas for Fort Meade” (roughly the midpoint between the two), the “Tussle for 295,” a few I-95 puns including “95 Theses” and “95 Problems…” (the latter clearly requiring a follow-up clause, which no one could come up with).
Head Athletic Trainer John Burrell came directly to the point and ended the discussion (at least for now): “It’s the ‘Battle of the Game We’d Better [Freakin’] Win’,” he said.
Fair point. But it’s not necessarily going to work on T-shirts for future rematches. I’ll keep asking around; surely someone can come up with something that’s both accurate and punchy, right?