Hartman: Birk's ultimate goal is within his grasp

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 23, 2013 - 11:07 PM

In his 15th season, the longtime Vikings stalwart finds himself in his first Super Bowl with the Ravens.

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Matt Birk

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Matt Birk says he spent 11 fantastic years with the Vikings. But the Cretin-Derham Hall alum, who left as a free agent in 2009, knows that everything happens for a reason, and with that mindset he has really enjoyed his four years with the Baltimore Ravens. And now, he says, his biggest dream has a chance to come true as he plays in the Super Bowl for the first time in his illustrious 15-year career.

"I mean, that's your dream," said Birk, who is the starting center for the Ravens, who face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. "You just hope that if you make it in the NFL that you're fortunate enough to be part of a team that can make it to the Super Bowl and ultimately win it.

"That's the goal, not just to go but to win it. We're a step away."

There were rumors after last season that the Vikings' sixth-round draft choice out of Harvard in 1998 would retire after 14 years in the NFL.

"I certainly thought about it. But I just waited after the season to kind of see how my body felt at first and to see what my family wanted to do, if they were up for it again," Birk said. "I mean when the season ended, I wanted to come back because I knew we had a great team and I really enjoyed the guys, but I just wanted to make sure that I could do it and that I could contribute to the team. I didn't want to do it just to do it, just to try to hang on."

Asked to talk about the great teams he has played on, and what makes this particular Ravens team unique, Birk said: "Obviously every team has its own style of football. Our style is our own, but I think we have a lot of things that all good teams have. You have great players and great coaches and guys that really enjoy each other and care about each other and guys that are willing to take whatever sacrifices they have to make for the good of the team."

Birk said that the atmosphere around the team has really picked up during this postseason run.

"When you win, it's a heck of a lot of fun," he said. "I've been real healthy this year, and obviously winning games is what it's all about. That's why you play. It's a great feeling in the locker room after you win."

McKinnie improved

Birk said that Bryant McKinnie, Birk's fellow offensive lineman with both the Vikings and Baltimore, worked hard all year to get and stay in shape this season. While the big left tackle didn't play much in the regular season, he got his shot in the playoffs. An injury gave McKinnie a chance to start, and Birk said McKinnie was prepared and has played great.

"He started last year for us and didn't start this year," Birk said, "but got his chance when we had an injury the last game of the season. He's making the most of it."

Birk talked about the unique situation of having two brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl.

"Obviously you look at [San Francisco coach] Jim and [Baltimore coach] John Harbaugh and what they've been able to do in such a short time as head coaches in this league, it's not a fluke," he said. "They're great football coaches, both of them in their own right. I'm sure there's a lot of similarities between them, but obviously there's also differences.

"They each have their own personalities and kind of put their own stamp on their teams.

"We played [San Francisco] last year, and it was a great game. Their defense is great, probably as good as I've ever seen. Offensively, they're playing well. It'll be a great challenge for us."

Finally, I asked Birk, 36, if there was any talk of retiring after this year. "We'll see, we'll see," he said. "I'm just going to enjoy the present and then I'll make a decision about my future when I have to."

Handel promoted

Randy Handel, who has been serving as the University of Minnesota's interim associate athletic director for development, has been named permanently to the post. Handel has served the athletic department in various roles since 2010.

Handel, a Woodbury resident, had a primary role as a major gifts officer for the university, working on fundraising for capital campaigns and scholarship endowments.

Jottings

• Brendan Beal, the Gophers linebacker who has had one knee problem after another, having torn his ACL three times, is taking a medical leave from the team. Everyone else on the Gophers with eligibility left will return except for defensive ends Matt Garin and Eric Jacques, who are graduating and moving on.

• Andre McDonald, the Gophers wide receiver from Hopkins who was ranked with the top recruits of the 2012 class but was suspended before the bowl game, is in school and is expected to be ready to play next fall.

• All four of the Gophers football recruits who were scheduled to start school Tuesday showed up, enrolled and will be able to take part in spring practice. They are: quarterback Chris Streveler of Marion (Ill.) Central Catholic; defensive end Hendrick Ekpe of Lewiston, Texas, who joins brother Scott on the team; Damien Wilson of Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, who was named linebacker of the year in his conference; and linebacker Jordan Hinojosa, who signed in 2011 but had to go to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College for academic reasons.

• Former Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano, whose two-year contract with the Pirates was withdrawn when he suffered an injury to his non-pitching arm, has signed a new deal with the club.

• Tony Dungy, the former Colts coach, was among those unhappy when his old team fired Tom Moore, the former Vikings offensive coordinator who played a big part in the development of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. So it was great to hear that newly named Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who served as Colts offensive coordinator and also interim coach this season, brought Moore back to the NFL to be his assistant offensive head coach.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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