Steve Bisciotti was still a minority owner of the Baltimore Ravens when planning began for the team's new training facility in Owings Mills.
After his staff canvassed other National Football League teams about what they liked, or might do differently, in their headquarters, he turned the team's wish list over to an architect. He wasn't pleased with the results.
"He said it looked like his junior high," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president for public relations. "He said he wanted something warm, welcoming and something that looked like it had been here for 100 years."
The result is a $30 million edifice on 32 acres. Officially known as the Under Armour Performance Center — the sporting-goods company paid an unknown amount for naming rights — it is affectionately known as "the Castle."
Located on 1 Winning Drive, it has a brick and stone exterior, a grand balustrade, arched entrances, stone window casements and a damsel-in-distress tower.
"It is very Hogwarts-esque," conceded Byrne.
Outside, the landscape is immaculately groomed. Ornamental cabbages and ornamental kale — purple, of course — line the winter beds, and a team emblem, the bird's head, is spray painted on a nearby hill.
Inside, the Ravens' complex "is a combination law firm and high school gym," said Jeff Goering, the team's chief financial officer.
In contrast to the leather furniture, dark cherry paneling and a huge fireplace in the lobby, cinder-block hallways lead to meeting rooms, locker rooms and the weight room.
"Our goal was to make it football-friendly," said Byrne. And by that, he means extra-large. From the seats in the meeting rooms to the width and height of the doors, everything inside the Castle is state of the art and larger than life.
"I like it more than I like my house," said running back Bernard Pierce, as he lifted weights under the blazing red eyes of the Raven emblem that decorates, and motivates, in the weight room.
"There's more to do. And it gives me peace of mind. I don't have to run all over the city to get things done, and I can focus on my job here."
There is indeed more to do. From video games to basketball and racquetball, HD televisions, pinball machines and spin classes. There are drink dispensers around every corner and a color-coded cafeteria that serves the players three meals a day and anything in between.
Red-labeled food, like the macaroni and cheese that community affairs assistant manager Emily Scerba says is "to die for," might not be a healthy choice. Green-labeled food, such as fish and vegetables, is.
Players arrive at the training facility between 6 and 7 in the morning and might be there for the next 12 hours, in meetings, lifting and practicing. The Ravens try to provide everything the players need — including haircuts and car washes — so, as Pierce said, they don't have to run all over town doing errands.
"It is a top-notch facility and, believe me, not all of them are," said Matt Birk. "We have everything we need under one roof.
"It speaks to the Ravens. First class all the way," said the center, who says that his favorite place is the basketball court. Cool and dark, "it's where I can stretch out and take a five-minute nap."
If the goal was to make the Ravens' headquarters football-friendly, it was up to Bisciotti's wife, Renee, to make it beautiful, too.
The towering entrance would be imposing if it were not for the clubby warmth provided by the gas fireplace, the deeply dimpled leather furniture and the area rugs in subdued patterns.
There is also Tiffany-style table lamp — featuring the Ravens' bird's head logo — above a leather chair in one corner that looks like a welcoming reading nook. A bronze statue of
, a miniature version of the one at M&T Bank Stadium, adorns a granite coffee table nearby.
Above the fireplace is a nearly life-size portrait of the late owner
, painted by Zhuo Liang as a gift from Bisciotti when he took over the team in 2004, the year the training facility opened. On either side are orchids — purple, of course — and behind the reception desk is a three-dimensional bird's head rendered in stainless steel.
Bracketing the fireplace, glass cases house the AFC championship trophy and the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy from the victory in 2001. There will have to be some redecorating if the Ravens defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.
Art is everywhere in the building — several hundred thousand dollars' worth — and it, too, begins in the lobby with "Ready to Rumble," an oil painting by Julie Chapman of three ravens looking sinister against an angry red-and-purple sky.
Portraits of Ravens greats and great moments in oils or pastels line the halls of the second floor, where the coaches and administrative staff work. A grand staircase, paneled in cherry wainscoting, leads to the offices.
A stainless-steel rendering of a player in action is mounted at the end of each hallway. Scerba says that's how she finds her way around the complex — by remembering to turn left at the kicker.
The coaches' offices each have their own balconies overlooking the outdoor practice field. Modell's office is intact, with leopard-patterned carpet and ruby-and-gold floor-length window coverings. Below is a stone patio with super-sized seating overlooking the practice field, an inviting place for players and staff to have lunch in warm weather.
And the Ravens treat their staff as well as they treat their players. There are locker rooms and a special gym for women who might not want to throw weights around with the players. There are boot camp classes and yoga classes — former running back Ricky Williams was a certified yoga instructor.
Everywhere there are photographs, of Baltimore Colts as well as Ravens. A veritable history of football in Baltimore. Another hall is lined with pictures from each of Baltimore's victories — an image chosen by a vote of the players. Letters from children are taped to the windows of the players' cafeteria.
The locker room is off limits to visitors. The players' sanctum sanctorum, the lockers are arranged so that they can see each other, and it is probably their favorite place to hang out and relax, said Scerba. "There is always a pretty competitive cornhole game going on in there."
The Castle combines the best of a college campus with the best of a cozy retreat from the world.
"We all spend so much time here," said Scerba, "we wanted it to feel like a home away from home."