Over the next four weeks, out-of-the-way Westminster will play host to Elvis, a documentary television program and approximately 70,000 purple-clad pilgrims. Reports suggest that a certain silver football trophy belonging to the Baltimore Ravens might take up Carroll County residence as well.
The defending Super Bowl champions' training camp will begin in this city of 16,731 Sunday. The Ravens were just another National Football League team during their previous five camps at Western Maryland College, but this year will be different.
With the Orioles swooning, the Baltimore area seems ready to renew its vows with the team that brought it a world championship for the first time in nearly two decades.
Training camp will bring a first look at new quarterback Elvis Grbac and allow for reacquaintance with a team defense generally regarded as the best.
Baltimore will know the country is watching because a Home Box Office crew of 20 will film virtually every moment of camp for a documentary on the Ravens that is to begin airing Wednesday.
Given the anticipation and the scrutiny, a highly charged month seems certain, said officials for the Ravens, Westminster and the college. Camp will follow the same plot as in past years, they said, but with more fans, more critics and definitely more cameras.
"We think we have a system that works pretty well, so we'll do what we've always done," said Bob Eller, the team's director of operations. "But, of course, things are different."
Conversations with other recent Super Bowl winners suggest that camp attendance might be more than 30 percent higher than last year's 50,000, Eller said. In anticipation of bigger crowds, the team has procured more parking, shifted one of its practice fields to provide a larger autograph area and hired additional security guards. Interview requests for star players have doubled, and the media might at times overflow their cramped space at the team hotel, Eller said.
College officials might feel an undercurrent of anxiety as they seek a new deal that would keep the camp at Western Maryland for a few more years. Both sides say the relationship between team and college has been great, but neither would comment on the future other than to say that negotiations will proceed during camp. Asked whether the team has examined alternatives, Eller said, "We're aware of what's out there."
Minority owner Steve Bisciotti, who has an option to buy the franchise after the 2003 season, attended another Maryland college, Salisbury University.
"So you never know what that could mean," Western Maryland spokesman Don Schumaker said with a laugh. Team officials had no comment on any speculation.
If this is the team's last year in Westminster, it should prove quite a finale. Purple and gold Ravens flags and white banners proclaiming the team AFC and world champions line Main Street. Jerseys and signs appear in many store windows.
The team expects crowds of 10,000 Aug. 3 for an intrasquad scrimmage and Aug. 4 for a mock game. The Aug. 4 event will include photo opportunities with players, a giveaway of 10,000 team yearbooks and a wine-tasting on the college's tennis courts.
Daily practices will feature the food vendors, kids' games and corporate tents that always accompany camp. The tents are beside the field this year and will be catered by Outback Steakhouse.
Though the two scrimmage days should be the highlight of camp, city and college officials said, they will also cause the most strain. Flashing signs and police will direct fans to parking spots, including the lot at TownMall of Westminster on Route 140, which will run a shuttle to the college's Bair Stadium.
The team has also purchased access to several lots along Pennsylvania Avenue, and the college has agreed to open more on-campus parking if needed.
The HBO camera operators will hover around all the activity. Two weeks ago, the premium cable channel moved a large trailer to the parking lot of the college-owned Best Western motel, where the team stays. The motel is not open to the public.
To a large extent, the players' actions will determine the plots of the hourlong shows, which will run every Wednesday until the season starts, said Bob Angelo, co-producer and director.
Angelo wants to show the difficulty of the transition from regular life to the brutal sport. "I don't think the American football watching public understands what these men go through to play professional football," he said.
Cameras will be permitted everywhere but the training room, where they could jeopardize patient-doctor confidentiality. Players will probably feel violated at times, especially after they watch the first few episodes, Angelo said.
"I'm sure there will be times when guys say `Get that camera out of here,'" he said. "I anticipate that happening, though I hope not too often."
Westminster and college officials said they'll be thrilled to see the area on national television, even if only in glimpses.