Looking on his decision to sign with the Baltimore Ravens, ending his 11-season run with his hometown team, former Vikings center Matt Birk said it was more of a family decision than anything, giving his wife, Adrianna, some of the credit for prompting his move as a free agent.

"My wife went around the area, made sure that she could visualize our family living there and being happy for a couple of years, and it all fell into place," he said.

"It will be completely different, but I think's that great. We're embracing that. Get to live in a different part of the country for a couple of years, experience new stuff.

"Then, we'll be back and forth a lot and have a home here, maybe not the same one. My wife and I, my kids, we're all from Minnesota. We'll always be from Minnesota. And it will always be home. ... We're so comfortable here. I guess if we didn't do something like this, and take a chance and start fresh, this great opportunity that came along with Baltimore, I felt I would have looked back on it and regretted it, not doing it."

The Vikings would have topped the money the Ravens gave Birk: three years at $12 million, with $6 million guaranteed.

"It wasn't about the money. You hear it all the time, the market is what it is," he said. "I think sometimes it's good to leave the familiar comfort zone and do things that scare you a little bit. It certainly is that. Even though, I think professionally, and personally, it seems like a great fit.

"It seems like the Ravens, there's a spot for a guy like me out there, and my kids are young enough and we're able to do this and kind of have a new adventure. But I realize I'm talking to you. I think you've worked at the Star Tribune for 75 years. There is something to be said for contentment, too."

The six-time Pro Bowl selection praised the Ravens, who needed a center after they lost free agent Jason Brown to the Rams. St. Louis gave Brown a five-year contract for $37.5 million with $20 million guaranteed, the highest salary of any center in the league.

"I wouldn't have left for just anywhere, but I think once, just the way it all unfolded, and the Vikings let me explore free agency, I went out there and was just nothing but impressed," Birk said. "[The Ravens are] a first-class organization, and like I said, I think there's a role for guy like me."

Birk doesn't plan to make Baltimore his permanent home. He said he will definitely return to Minnesota. And who knows, he might still play with the Vikings again.

"Absolutely. All our family, all our friends are here," he said. "We love the fact that we're from Minnesota, we love living in Minnesota. ... You've got to experience a lot of different things, you've got to grow. You've got to grow as a person.

"Like I said, you've got to scare the hell out of yourself once in a while. Even though it's exciting, it's scary, too. You know what? I might look back, it might be the worst decision I ever made. The thing might totally blow up. Hey, at least we're taking a chance and we're trying something. That's how my wife and I are looking at it."

The Vikings certainly knew there was a possibility Birk wouldn't be back for 2009 when they chose center John Sullivan in the sixth round out of Notre Dame in last year's draft. Sullivan played in all 16 games last year, but on special teams. They also have 2006 second-round pick Ryan Cook, who briefly lost his job as the starting right tackle last year; Cook was a center in college at New Mexico.

Asked if he believes Sullivan can fill his shoes and take over at center, Birk said: "I think pretty early on in a guy's career, you can tell if they can play or not. He can definitely play. He'll be fine."


According to Big Ten football revenue figures filed with the United States Department of Education, the Gophers revenue of about $24.3 million ranked seventh in the conference. Ohio State was first at $65.1 million, followed by Michigan ($57.4 million), Penn State ($53.8), Michigan State ($43.8), Wisconsin ($37.7), Illinois ($25.3), the Gophers, Indiana ($21.8), Purdue ($21.6) and Northwestern ($21.1). Ohio State also led the conference in football expenses, at $33.1 million, compared to $9.3 million for the Gophers.

The Gophers men's basketball team certainly can't afford a loss in its opening game of the Big Ten tournament Thursday against Northwestern, a team the Gophers beat by 27 points on Feb. 22 at Williams Arena. After Saturday's loss to Michigan, guard Lawrence Westbrook said: "Right now, we need to focus on going into the Big Ten tournament. This loss hurts, but the game is over. We need to prepare for the next game and get a win in the tournament. If we play like we did last year, I think we could make it to the championship game." Last year, the Gophers won two games in the Big Ten tournament, including a 55-52 first-round victory over Northwestern. ... Chuck Iverson, the father of Gophers freshman center Colton Iverson, is a member of the University of South Dakota Hall of Fame and was selected in the fifth round of the 1973 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics.

Gophers football coach Tim Brewster has a new website called Play4Brew.com. It contains a lot of Gophers football information. ... Kevin Cosgrove and Ronnie Lee will be co-defensive coordinators for the Gophers this fall, but Cosgrove will call the defensive signals.

The Gophers wrestling team finished fifth in the Big Ten championships, the first time it hasn't finished first or second at the competition since 1998. Asked what he thinks of next year's team, coach J Robinson said: "Next year, yes, we have a bunch of freshmen. They're all going to come out of their redshirt years. Next year will be a completely different team than this one."

Fred Hoiberg, the assistant general manager of the Timberwolves, was in Europe last week to watch 2008 draft choice Nikola Pekovic, a 6-10 center from Montenegro. "[Hoiberg] watched him and told me that he's doing very well over there," Wolves owner Glen Taylor said of Pekovic, the 31st pick overall last year and the first of the second round. However, Pekovic has two more years on his contract for the Greek team Panathinaikos unless the Wolves can buy it out. The Wolves expect Pekovic, 23, to be the best center ever to play for the club. He is averaging 11.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in Panathinaikos' 18 Greek league games and 12.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in his team's 14 Euroleague games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com