Last week's sweltering heat kept most sensible folks indoors, but it didn't prevent the faithful from attending the Baltimore Ravens training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster.
As temperatures approached 100 degrees Monday afternoon, thousands of football enthusiasts crowded around a practice field behind the college's Gill Center gymnasium.
While some braved the blazing sun to stake out prime position in the standing-room-only autograph area, most took refuge in the shade of trees and the tents that covered the bleachers along the sideline.
Near an end zone, though, Henry and Susan Adami were seated on a bench under a tree, watching the Ravens as they ran plays a short distance away. When a line of players temporarily blocked his view, Henry Adami stood and walked to his left to get a better angle.
County officials are expecting up to 100,000 people to come see the Ravens over this year's three-week training camp, where fans corral against fences and in bleachers to see and interact with the team.
"It's a unique opportunity," said Henry Adami, 53, of Manchester. "How many people have had a chance to watch a professional football team practice? You get to appreciate the size, speed, power and athleticism."
During pre-practice stretching, drills and scrimmaging, many fans sit and stand in rapt attention, looking away only to match players' numbers to the names on the roster sheets.
Ruth Barron, who says she's not missed many days of training camp in the past five or six years, collects the media guides sold at the merchandise stands.
"I come because, number one, it gets me used to the players," said Barron, 49, of Owings Mills. "Number two, I get my own opinions on who's good or bad so I can complain when they cut somebody, like [Cleveland Browns backup quarterback] Derek Anderson last year."
When the Ravens are practicing, Barron said, she skips work nearly every morning, going to her job once practice lets out.
"This is kind of like my vacation," she said. "It gets my desire to talk football out of my system. I like to hear other people's opinions, [and] I like to vent my own."
Like Barron's, the Adamis' training camp visits are a tradition. They have come for a few days in each of the Ravens' 11 years at McDaniel, and afterward they usually eat at Harry's Main Street Restaurant, said Susan Adami, 52.
The influx of football fans, who shop, eat and lodge in Westminster and Carroll County, affects the local economy, said Denise Beaver, deputy director at the Carroll County Department of Economic Development.
Harry's Main Street Restaurant and Baugher's Family Restaurant, both of which are close to the college, typically see big increases in sales, their managers said.
Despite the recent high temperatures, business has remained steady, said Stephen Nace, restaurant manager at Baugher's.
"Since [the Ravens] have moved the practices up earlier in the morning [due to the heat], we don't get as big a breakfast crowd as we did in the past," Nace said. "However, we've been getting a late breakfast crowd."
While trips to the training camp are a custom for many fans, for others - such as Dan Hicks and his three children - it is a new experience.
"I had a day off, and I was looking for something new and completely different for the kids to do," said Hicks, of Severn.
Hicks' daughters, Morgan, 13, and Taylor, 7, and 9-year-old son, Mark, split their time Monday morning between watching the practice and enjoying the Ravenstown Fan Zone, an area that includes games and activities for youth.
"It's cool and fun because you get to go on the games and you get to have autographs of the players," Taylor said.
After collecting the signatures of fullback Ovie Mughelli and running back Mike Anderson, Imani Wright, 7, of Randallstown tried to catch footballs thrown by his uncle, Darryl Wright. Defending Imani was Justin Grimes, 13, of Edgewood, who had just met the Wrights earlier that morning.
Darryl Wright, a Ravens' season-ticket holder who has visited the training camp a few times in the last five years, said that he and Imani typically don't watch much of the practice.
"The fun is seeing him enjoy himself," he said. "That's the real joy."
But for Tammy Fianu, 40, of Woodsboro, the training camp experience is mainly about watching practices in close proximity to the players and enjoying the atmosphere.
"I like that you can see them up close and personal," Fianu said. "It's a nice, relaxing environment; it relieves stress. This is just where I want to be."