The Ravens will spend thousands of dollars on pasta, fresh vegetables, fish and fruit for training camp, but the players get just as much satisfaction out of a $2.99 Value Meal.
The official food of the 1996 Ravens is grease.
And plenty of it.
"The training camp food is great, and the staff really works hard to set a proper diet," said starting left tackle Tony Jones. "But, man, we have to have our grease."
So about five days a week, Jones (295 pounds) and his fellow offensive linemen -- tackle Orlando Brown (340) and guards Wally Williams (305) and Jeff Blackshear (323) -- get into their cars and head to Popeyes for dinner.
And, oh, can they eat.
"I remember one guy came in and asked for three four-piece dinner meals, five side orders and one large drink for himself," said Phil Zellines, manager of the Popeyes on Route 140 in Westminster.
"Sometimes they will come in eight at a time. Then it becomes a who's who to watch these guys order. They come here so much I told them we would start to deliver."
The fast-food diet is one NFL teams have been trying to avoid for years.
According to Jerry Simmons, the Ravens' strength and conditioning coach, 300-pound linemen can burn nearly 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, twice what the average person burns.
Simmons said 60 percent of the athlete's diet should be carbohydrates, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen.
Glycogen is the polysaccharide in which carbohydrates are stored in muscles after digestion. Glycogen is the best thing an athlete can have in his body, the secret to strength and stamina, says Joan Buchbinder, nutritionist with the New England Patriots.
L But getting players to change their lifestyles is difficult.
"I have two sisters and a mother, so I always had a cooked meal when I was young," said Jones. "Then you were always fed in college at the training table. But when I was a rookie, I didn't know anything about cooking. I remember buying some beef patties once, and then calling home saying, 'Hey mom, what's next?' I just forgot about cooking, and started running out to the fast-food joints."
Safety Bennie Thompson said: "The younger guys are the ones who usually hit Burger King, McDonald's or go out for a pizza. The older fellas like myself, we'll go out and get the pork chops, collard greens and hog maws. That's real food."
Simmons doesn't mind if the players occasionally splurge. After all, big boys will be big boys.
He just doesn't want the greasy foods to become a habit. The Ravens bring in members of their medical staff to explain the advantages of a balanced diet, and give out leaflets to players at the end of the regular season with guidelines on how to lose or add weight.
Then when training camp starts, waffles and pancakes are available for breakfast every morning, and pasta is included in the last two meals of the day. If it's not spaghetti, then maybe it's linguine. Rice and potatoes are common, too.
"During camp, these guys are going from 7 in the morning to 11: 30 at night," said Simmons. "Our job is to educate them, that the closer they get to a balanced diet, the more efficiently a body can perform.
"It's hard to equate anything to what a pro football player goes through during training camp because it's full bore all the time. But sometimes they don't want to eat because they are so tired or too filled with liquids, and others eat too much because this can be a very stressful situation."
Preparation of the food is serious business. According to Mary Roloff, the account operations manager of dining services at Western Maryland College for Sodexho Corp., fresh fruit is imported every morning. Bruised fruit never makes it to the table.
Before the Ravens break training camp in mid-August, the players are expected to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of beef, 2,500 pounds of fish, 2,000 pounds of turkey, 6,000 pounds of chicken (hardly any fried, of course), 4,000 pounds of fruit, 4,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,000 pounds of pasta, 40 bushels of corn, 1,200 gallons of fruit juice and 700 gallons of milk.
"Basically, it's good stuff and probably the best a lot of players get fed the entire year," said Ravens receiver Michael Jackson. "Once in a while they'll come up with some strange stuff, like the other day they had chicken that looked like it had cornflakes on it. That's when I went to Long John Silver's. Being from Louisiana, I like a little spice."
Even Roloff and her staff give in occasionally. Last week the team went through 80 pounds of crab cakes at dinner. One hundred and forty pounds of shrimp and 200 12-ounce steaks were served Wednesday. On another day, Roloff watched as one player ate three 9-ounce hamburgers.
"That was a quick snack," said Roloff. "The big meal of the day is dinner. That's when they get us."