Matt Birk won a Super Bowl on Sunday, at a point in his life when he appreciates the rarity of achievement.
NEW ORLEANS - Most of the lights in the Superdome went out shortly after halftime of the Super Bowl.
"We all went in to the locker room, plugged in our cellphones, and, 'bang,' " Matt Birk said.
Birk had just walked off the field. He was in the mood to make a few jokes.
His jersey bore the scars and streaks of paint that mark a good day's work as an NFL center. Confetti clung to his shoulders. He had just played in his first Super Bowl, and won it, more than 14 years after the Vikings selected him in the sixth round of the NFL draft, and he could barely contain himself.
After the Ravens beat the 49ers 34-31, Birk grabbed Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and pulled him close, whispering into his ear. He shadow-boxed with Terrell Suggs. Then he remembered leaving the Vikings as a free agent four seasons ago, moving his family from his Twin Cities home, and settling in Baltimore for what he figured would be the last few years of his career.
He considered retiring last spring, months after the Ravens barely lost in the AFC Championship Game. Instead, he underwent surgery to repair painful varicose veins in his legs, forcing him to rest. The result was a fresher body that allowed him to keep pace with the Ravens' no-huddle offense.
"That helped me a lot," Birk said. "The last couple of years, as the season went on, my legs got pretty fatigued. I felt better this year. The trainer told me I was the guy in the training room the least this year. I don't get my ankles and wrists taped. I don't get treatment. I go in and get a Q-Tip to clean my ears, and that's it.
"That's a great blessing. I've had years when it went the other way, too. That's part of the price you pay to play this game."
Birk grew up in St. Paul and dreamed of playing for the Vikings. He had little choice but to leave when the Vikings decided not to re-sign him. "When I came here four years ago, I didn't have a ton of options," he said. "I knew after meeting with Coach [John] Harbaugh, and talking to him for a couple of hours, that he was a special guy. A leader of men. I thought, 'I'm only going to play for a couple of more years, probably. This is how I want to do it, playing for this guy.'
"I think I was right. I'm not right a lot, but I think I was right this time.''
Birk avoided watching TV all week but felt a sense of pride when one former teammate, Cris Carter, was elected into the Hall of Fame, and another, Adrian Peterson, was voted league MVP.
"I'm a Minnesotan,'' he said. "I grew up with the Vikings. I was blessed enough to play for them for 11 years. I hope I'm still in the Viking family. I want to be.
"I don't know if you know that, but I'm from St. Paul. We're a proud bunch. I hope the people back home take some pride in this."
Birk will decide soon whether he'll continue playing. "You talk about walking away with a championship, but that's for all-time greats,'' he said. "For me, every year I get a job is a good year."
He's 36. He's been an All-Pro. A year ago, he won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Sunday, he won a Super Bowl, at a point in his life when he appreciates the rarity of achievement.
"When the clock hit triple zero, that was pretty good," he said. "When my family ran out to share the moment, that was great, too. Holding the trophy was nice. Having the confetti falling on your head was pretty good.
"I had a great breakfast, a great stack of pancakes. And you know what? I don't' think this night is going to be over for a long time for me."
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org
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