One of the reasons some of us love Matt Birk came through last Thursday when WCCO’s Mike Max asked the former Vikings center to do a four-minute segment previewing the Vikings’ first-round pick in the NFL draft.
“I love Maxie,” Birk said. “So I said, ‘Sure.’ ”
Former Vikings General Manager Jeff Diamond was on the show with Max. During the interview, Diamond mentioned North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury and three other offensive line prospects who had been linked to the Vikings at No. 18.
“You know me,” Birk said. “I’m a pretty affable guy. I like to please people. So, Jeff says, ‘Now Matt, of these four, which do you like better? What do you know about them?”
“I said, ‘Well, Jeff, I don’t know anything about any of them,’ ” Birk said with a laugh. “Who cares what people think now? We’ll know in three or four years.”
The Vikings ended up making Bradbury the first center drafted in the first round in the 58-year history of the franchise.
If he does indeed bump Pat Elflein to guard and starts at center against the Falcons on Sept. 8, he’ll join Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff and Elflein as the only rookies in franchise history to start at center in Week 1.
But it will take much longer than that to determine whether the most ballyhooed draft-day center ever will deserve mention in the same breath as Tingelhoff, Dennis Swilley, Kirk Lowdermilk, Jeff Christy, Birk and John Sullivan.
“Wait a minute,” said Birk, tapping the brakes on that narrative. “It’s good to be in that group.
“But, really, there’s kind of like Mick and then there’s the rest of us.”
Duly noted. Tingelhoff did, after all, start 240 games while missing nary a one from 1962 to ’78.
But the other five started 495 of the Vikings’ 581 non-replacement games (85.2%) from 1979 to 2015.
“If Penn State is ‘Linebacker U,’ does that make us ‘Center Whatever?’ ” Birk said. “I don’t think so. But it’s kind of cool.
“It’s sort of like you look at Mick and say, ‘I’m going to try to live up to that.’ I knew I never would be able to, but if I tried to, I knew I’d probably be better than I otherwise would have been.”
In 1962, 18 centers were taken during the NFL’s 20-round draft. Tingelhoff went undrafted out of Nebraska and initially was given a $500 signing bonus to play linebacker for the Vikings.
Of course, not too many young boys dream of growing up to be an NFL center.
Sullivan wanted to be a star cornerback, the next Rod Woodson, he said. But he started growing a center’s behind at about age 10 and made the NFL as a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame.
Bradbury spoke last week about wanting to be a shortstop for the Yankees.
And then, of course, there’s Birk, the St. Paul kid who never, ever thought he’d be the next Lowdermilk or Christy.
“The first time I ever snapped a ball between my legs in my life was during my [predraft] workout with the Vikings,” said Birk, drafted as a tackle in the sixth round in 1998.
“I was home on spring break. I snapped a few balls to [then-offensive line coach] Mike Tice. And that was kind of the start of it.”
Only once since 2000 has the number of centers drafted ranked ahead of a position other than fullback and specialist.
In 2004, nine centers and only eight guards were selected.
But there have been eight centers taken in the first round the past 10 years, including three in the past two years.
“Left tackles are still more of a premium,” Birk said. “You can make up for deficiencies a little more on the inside with scheme. And you can make a guard a center.
“Not that it will always work out. Center is unique from the standpoint that you do have to make the calls. Once you do it, you’re the only guys who know what it’s like. It’s like a club.”