On August 1, 1953, for the first time, the Baltimore Colts opened their football training camp at Western Maryland College in Westminster. More than 2,500 fans watched that first practice at Hoffa Field, then surrounded their sweaty heroes, asking for autographs.
For 19 years, that scene played out. Each summer, families made the pilgrimage to the sleepy Carroll County town. Rubbing elbows with the likes of Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore was a rite of passage for kids of the era.
Crowds grew. In 1957, more than 5,000 attended the second annual Colts Family Day; in 1969, an ordinary practice drew 7,900 fans. Often, folks lingered around Westminster, hoping to see the players at their favorite hangouts — playing pool at O's and Ginny's, attending Mass at St. John's Church or dining at Harry's Main Street Grille, where Art Donovan, the Hall of Fame tackle, once ate 25 hot dogs.
The setting appealed to the players, too.
"Back then, on a nice evening, you could walk the streets of town without being asked for autographs," said Gino Marchetti, the Hall of Fame defensive end. "A couple of our players even married girls from Westminster."
The Colts who trained at Western Maryland (now McDaniel College) won three NFL titles and a Super Bowl, after the 1970 season. Two years later, they moved camp to Colorado. When the Ravens arrived in 1996, they summered in Westminster for 15 years, then relocated to Owings Mills. All that's left are the cherished, dog-eared photos of youngsters posing with their favorite players on those sultry bygone days of August.