Ravens make themselves at home in new facility

Owings Mills complex has largest weight room in NFL, 3 outdoor fields

October 15, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Just like two decades ago, a fleet of moving vans rolled out of the Owings Mills football facility.

But in a stark contrast to the Colts' escape on that snowy night in 1984, the Ravens' relocation trumpeted a brighter future.

The Ravens moved four miles down the road during this week's bye into their plush, new, $31-million training complex, a short drive that allowed the franchise to leap from an antiquated era to a cutting-edge one.

Nestled in the woods of Owings Mills, the Ravens' 200,000-square-foot headquarters - whose new address is 1 Winning Drive - sits on 32 acres and features three outdoor football fields, the NFL's largest weight room, 32-inch high-definition televisions in nearly every room and a full-length indoor practice field.

At the old facility, which was used by the Colts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, keeping the heat on and the ceiling from caving in were sometimes chores.

"This was my first [job as a head coach]. This was my first office," said coach Brian Billick on his last day at the old facility. "This was the first crummy fields that I've ever had as a head coach. It's exciting going to a new facility and we'll really miss this place for about 10 minutes."

The Ravens were working at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the NFL in terms of training since moving from Cleveland in 1996.

The old facility only had one full-length field, and its weight room was housed in a bubble that took up half of the artificial surface field.

During the snowy winters, the Ravens had to practice at half-speed in a high school gym. During the summers, players had to work out at dawn to avoid the heat.

Steve Bisciotti, who became the Ravens' principal owner six months ago, wasted no time in changing that, looking to send a message in his first major move.

At the new complex, the Ravens will have their choice to work out on two fields sodded with Bermuda turf or another one surfaced with Bluegrass. When weather becomes a factor, the Ravens don't have to step outside to get to their indoor field house.

Players can look out onto the fields through a wall of windows in their 10,000-square foot weight room. There they can pick up dumbbells that have the Ravens' logo emblazoned on the sides.

The training room is filled with a dozen treatment tables, twice the number in a normal NFL training room. And the ultra-modern hydrotherapy room has pools large enough that an assistant trainer had to get a lifeguard certificate.

"It demonstrates Steve's commitment to excellence," team president Dick Cass said. "I think that commitment will be clear to players, coaches and everybody in the organization."

Cass added, "I believe we went from perhaps the worst facility in the NFL to what we believe is the best."

Ravens officials believe this is a complex that will impress visiting free agents and entice their own players to stay during the offseason.

The players' lounge has leather couches, a couple of Sony PlayStations and a pool table with purple felt. They can play a pick-up game on their basketball court or hit the ball around on one of their two racquetball courts. And their meals will be prepared year-round in a full-service cafeteria.

"We're going to get kind of spoiled," said kicker Matt Stover, one of three players who had been at the other facility for the past nine years.

The only place that has not grown substantially is the locker room.

Purposely designed in a rectangular shape, the room enables everyone to be seen, from Jonathan Ogden in one corner to Ray Lewis in the other. Inside every oak locker is a direct Internet connection so players can surf the Web during free time.

"I think it's a facility where the players are going to want to hang out," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public relations. "Building team chemistry is something you're always working on. I think this facility will make it easier."

In many ways, the headquarters has the look of a country club, from the graystone turret to the old-style brick faM-gade. There is even a putting green on the circle just in front of the main entrance.

"Steve wanted to have an appearance of being here for 100 years," Byrne said. "It has a warm look."

The lobby is still a work-in-progress and will be highlighted by a large stone fireplace and several pieces of artwork picked by Renee Bisciotti, Steve's wife, who helped design the interior and selected several of the furnishings.

There will be a montage of Baltimore football, encompassing the University of Maryland football team, the Calvert Hall-Loyola and City-Poly high school rivalries and the Colts. Another one will display the history of the Ravens.

Steve Bisciotti also called for a life-size oil painting of Art Modell, the owner for the franchise's first eight seasons, to be a focal point in the lobby. Modell, who owns 1 percent of the team, has an office adjacent to Bisciotti.

Construction continues to take place at the complex, which is estimated to be 75 percent complete.

While the areas for coaches and players have been finished, the last to be wrapped up will be the offices for Cass and Bisciotti.

"It shows the players and coaches are first here," Byrne said.

Now, it's up to the players and coaches to repay the investment.

"I'm sure this is the premier one in the league," Stover said. "It'll make it a great environment to help us to get to the next level here with this team."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (3-2) vs. Buffalo Bills (0-4)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Oct. 24, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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