Almost from the moment he won a Super Bowl ring in February, retired and then lost 60 pounds, the tugging to get Matt Birk’s attention began.
There were the requests to be a motivational speaker — he recently spoke at 3M — along with guest appearances as an analyst for the NFL Network. There was the meeting last month in New York with the NFL, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, about Birk’s interest in helping down-and-out former players. The next day, there was a meeting with Eduardo Gonzalez, a sixth-grader whom Birk is sponsoring at the faith-based Hope Academy in south Minneapolis.
And there was no shortage of high-profile cheerleaders who saw Birk, a former Pro Bowl player for the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, as a budding political candidate.
“Politics today, in our country, is nonsense. Matt is common sense,” said Mike Ditka, the legendary former Chicago Bears coach. “What you see is real. There’s substance there.
“His politics is the same as mine — I’m conservative,” said Ditka, who chairs the Chicago-based Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps former players. Birk, a friend, is a member of the five-man board. “Bypass the preliminaries,” Ditka added. “Go right to the White House. Go for the presidency.”
While Birk is not yet jumping into any political ring — and, in fact, is moving his family to Florida for the coming school year — he said there have been plenty of knocks on his door since he retired and returned to Minnesota.
“Kind of the whole gamut,” said Birk, describing the offices that prominent Republicans are urging him to consider. “Governor, [U.S.] senator.”
He declined comment on reports that he met with the Republican National Senatorial Committee.
“The term ‘public servant’ — that’s appealing to me,” he added, however. “There is something about the idea I still find romantic.”
What happens next remains a mystery.
Birk said Thursday that he “should have some clarity on my short-term future next week,” and said it would not, for now, involve politics.
But Birk is not backing away from adding to the intrigue surrounding a possible political career.
He made national headlines last month when he declined to go to the White House with his teammates from the Super Bowl champion Ravens because of his disagreement with President Obama over Planned Parenthood and abortion. The move came after Birk also took a high-profile stance against the same-sex marriage amendment in Minnesota.
“Birk actually has bitten on it [politics],” said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin, who said Republicans still seem to be trying to get Birk to run sooner than later. “He’s met with people, clearly. He’s talked about it, and he’s actively engaged in trying to plot out his political future.”
With the Republican challengers short on name recognition in the campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Democrat, former state Republican Party Chair Pat Shortridge said there are those hoping Birk will reconsider.
“In politics, you always want to hear people say, ‘No, absolutely not, under no circumstances.’ And then you want to see them repeat it publicly about five times.
“Until they’ve absolutely, positively ruled it out, you don’t want to leave a potentially good candidate on the sidelines,” he said.