Ravens move into football palace

OWINGS MILLS - In crafting a luxurious football palace, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti spared no expense and created a glaring contrast to the decrepit Colts' training complex that the team used for its first eight seasons. <br><br> The Ravens held their first outdoor practice Sunday afternoon at their new $31 million headquarters. Only four miles away from the defending AFC North champions' former digs, it's a world apart in terms of technology, convenience and comfort.

The 200,000-square foot facility at 1 Winning Drive isn't fully completed, but features a brick-and-stone exterior, the NFL's largest weight room, a regulation-size indoor practice field, three outdoor fields, a full-service kitchen and cafeteria along with an opulent players' lounge.

"It's stunning," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, standing in front of a backdrop of well-groomed practice fields surrounded by forestland. "Pro players can get a little jaded based on their lifestyle, but to watch these guys walk around with their jaws open. The attention to detail, there's no finer facility in the NFL. They're very respectful of that.
"Your circumstances, your surroundings are always going to affect how you feel about yourself. The guys respect this building and they respect the commitment that this shows to what we want to get done."

Several players said the Ravens' new high-end address has the feel of a high-end country club spread out over 32 acres. Where the old facility was something of a detriment both for training and recruiting free agents, this looks to be a major asset.

"It's like going from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "It's first class. This is really what it's all about. It's like you got brand-new shoes. You don't want to mess it up. I'm proud that this is ours."

Between Internet connections in the players' oak lockers, flat-screen televisions in virtually every office, a choice of Bermuda sod or Bluegrass surfaces, a 90,000-square foot field house, an ATM machine plus a Super Bowl XXXV-themed pinball machine in the players' lounge the complex is, in a word, nice.

"Steve Bisciotti took care of us," receiver Travis Taylor said. "This is big-time. It's up to us to live up to what he built for us by winning."
The old facility, which Baltimore had used since moving from Cleveland in 1996, had leaks in the roof and uneven heating and air conditioning. Their weight room was housed in a crowded indoor bubble that got so hot in the summer that kicker Matt Stover said the team trained in the early-morning hours to beat the heat.

Now, the Ravens work out in a 10,000-square-foot facility outfitted with purple-padded equipment. They hoist dumbbells with their logo on the sides. And the training room is gigantic, including large pools for hydrotherapy.

"We're going to get kind of spoiled," Stover said.

The spacious players' lounge contains three televisions, X-boxes, SonyPlaystations, a pool table with purple felt, leather couches along with Gatorade, coffee and hot chocolate dispensers.

There's also a basketball court, two racquetball courts and three free meals a day for team employees prepared by the same catering company the team has used since moving to Maryland.

"It's state-of-the-art," said cornerback Chris McAlister, who signed a $55 million contract a week ago. "It's worth all of the money Steve put into it."

The complex was designed by Clayco, which also built the Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams' facilities. The majority of the construction work was assigned to Baltimore-area companies and workers.

Hours after the players' orientation on Saturday, several players were still hanging out at their new digs, senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said.

"I'm not going home," outside linebacker Bart Scott joked. "I'm going to bring in an air-bed to the locker room and sleep here. What do I need to go home for? I've got a pool table and video games right here."

The locker room is essentially unchanged, rectangle-shaped for open sight and communication with the entire team in addition to the Internet outlet.

Billick said everything the players needed was completed by Saturday.
"That took a lot of sacrifice," Billick said. "It's incredible what this organization did."

Bisciotti's wife, Renee, helped design the lobby, which remains under construction, and picked out furniture. Former principal owner Art Modell, who retains 1 percent of the team, will have an office next to Bisciotti's with an oil painting of his likeness in the lobby.

It's definitely an upgraded, elite facility. It's also a challenge for the team to prove themselves worthy of the investment.

"Anytime you get treated like this, you want to meet expectations," Mulitalo said. "I feel a little bit more spoiled, but our goals are still the same. We want to win."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com

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