The only reason why Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.
The 36-year-old Birk was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous 3 years with the Ravens, yet he never missed a good starting point. During the offseason, the 6-time Pro Bowl center went through surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.
Still, Birk knew the Baltimore Ravens had a shot at a championship, and he needed to play a part of it.
”At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you,” Birk recounted. ”I would not have come back if I didn’t think there had been a legitimate chance that I could help the team.”
Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance when the Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers on February 3.
”It means a lot for all the fellows to have an opportunity to take part in that,” Coach John Harbaugh related, ”to be in a position to be involved with that as a leader is a big thing. It makes you feel good, and now you try to make the most from it.”
Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs 5 times without a meeting title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was a part of 3 more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl. Now, Birk is poised to join the NFL’s biggest game.
”It’s great, obviously,” he revealed. ”That’s the goal. That’s your dream. That’s why you play.”
Maybe Birk deserved it, after everything he went through over his first 14 years. But Birk exudes no such feeling of entitlement.
”Nobody deserves it more than anybody else. It doesn’t matter how long you play,” he said. ”To be doing it with this team and just, I think, the closeness of this team and kind of the journey that we have been thru my 4 years here – every year getting close and getting close – to finally break thru, it’s pretty special.”
Reed, 34, has earned 9 Pro Bowl invitations in 11 years with Baltimore and has for some time been recognized as one of the best free safeties in the game. But he never got into the Super Bowl till now, and to make it even sweeter, his first appearance will be in his home state of Louisiana. Scores
”It’s been a long time coming, nevertheless it takes time,” Reed expounded. ”We’ve built up to this point.”
The Baltimore Ravens didn’t win the AFC title game in 2008 and 2012 under Harbaugh before finally breaking thru.
”For everything we’ve been through since coach Harbaugh got here, he had a dream of working us a certain way and taking us thru something to build something and to make this moment,” Reed announced. ”We believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understand one another and understand the process together.”