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Matt Birk Retirement Press Conference

Posted Feb 22, 2013


Opening Statement:

“Sometimes the greatest ideas happen spontaneously. So, this idea happened at about 4 o’clock yesterday. First of all, I am glad everybody is here. I am especially glad you guys [the students] are here. Do you guys remember me? (Students: “Yes!”) My name is Matt. I play for the Ravens. Did you hear that the Ravens won the Super Bowl? It was good stuff, right? You guys remember when I was here last time, what was I here for, do you remember? We had a book fair because reading is very important. Reading is the foundation of your education. When I was sitting up there on the stage at the assembly, I said, ‘Wow, these kids are really well-behaved.’ You guys were really on top of it. I have been to a lot of schools, and I mentioned to [the principal] how impressed [I was] by this school because of you guys, all you guys. But, one guy here really touched me extra specially, and that’s Larry [Bryant]. Larry, you’re not embarrassed, are you? Come up here for a second, Larry. You guys all know how special Larry is, right? Actually, Larry got a chance to meet some of my family, too, didn’t you? My family was super impressed with Larry, and they still talk about him. So, the reason that I came back here today was that the H.I.K.E. [Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge, Education] Foundation, which is my foundation that works with you guys that helped put on your book fair, and Scholastic, which is the organization that we work with … What we are going to do is we are going to build a reading oasis at this school. It’s going to have furniture, books that students – you guys – and your families can access. It’s really neat. It’s just a really comfortable, safe place where you guys can access books. We are going to stock it with a bunch of books, and we are going to donate that to your school. What we are going to do – because you are in fifth grade, right Larry? (Larry: “Yes.”) And, next year you are going into a different school, right? I know that nobody here is going to forget you, because you have touched their hearts. What we are going to do is we are going to put your name on it. We are going to call it the Larry Bryant Reading Oasis, so kids that come through here after you will know about you, too, and how special you are. Is that all right? You’re good with that? (Larry: “Thank you.”) You’re welcome. I’ll talk to you later.

“The other reason why you [media members] in the back are here is that today I am announcing my retirement from the NFL. I guess when I look back, I am not eloquent enough to put it all into words. Like I said, this idea was hatched yesterday in an airport. I guess when I think back on how fortunate that I’ve been in my career … I got to play my first 11 years with the Minnesota Vikings, which was the team – I grew up in Minnesota – that I grew up rooting for. That would be like you guys growing up and playing for the Ravens. That would be pretty cool, right? Yeah, that’d be pretty cool, right Larry? (Larry: Yeah!”) So, just to play in the NFL is obviously a dream come true. To do it for your hometown team is even better. What makes it better is you get to share the experience intimately with your family and friends, and with those people who helped you immensely along the way to get to that level. I’ll never forget after Vikings games, being out in the parking lot, my parents and our neighbors had the greatest tailgate party every single Sunday. We would have hundreds of people come. It was like everybody was welcome. Those were special times.

“Then, you never know how things are going to go, but after 11 years there, to leave home – my wife and I and our kids – our home, leave everything we knew to come to Baltimore … I can remember sitting across the table in [head coach] John Harbaugh’s office after we had toured the facility and met with some of the coaches. I was talking to ‘Harbs,’ and everything that he was saying, I was on board with. You kind of have to make a decision like that when you’re a free agent, and I thought, ‘Well, it almost sounds too good to be true.’ Coach was talking about how we were going to work hard, we were going to be tough. His vision for the team, I was in total agreement with. I didn’t know at the time, but I just said, ‘All right, with the limited information I have about the Ravens, I am going to bet on this guy, and I am going to come here.’ I am sure glad I did.

“From the beginning, the organization, and we really felt like the city, just welcomed us with open arms. I don’t need to tell anybody here what this team means to the city. It’s definitely a special connection. To have the honor of playing here for four years and playing under coach Harbaugh and his staff, it was truly an honor. To cap it with a Super Bowl win, that’s a great thing. But, regardless of that, had that not happened, it would have still been a fantastic experience and one that I would have been very thankful and grateful for. I guess what I am saying is God has been very good to me, and I am just filled with a lot of gratitude to a lot of people – my parents, my brothers, my wife, her unwavering support. She was like, ‘You can keep playing. It’s fine.’ (laughter) She drives the kids all over the county in the van we have. She drives from Florida to New Orleans, 13 hours with six kids. She does whatever. She left her home, too, and moved out here. She’s been unbelievable. My kids, everything. I have absolutely nothing to complain about, and a lot to be grateful for. I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everybody that made everything possible.

“The reason that I wanted to do it here today was because I have enjoyed playing football, but as much as playing, I have enjoyed doing this [giving back to the community] as an NFL player. When I was a rookie … There are 53 guys on a team. I was like the 53rd guy. I was the worst player on the team, but I was on the team. That’s all that mattered. I went out and did a visit my first week with the Vikings. I went to a school, and all the kids were going crazy. They didn’t really know who I was. They just knew that I played for the Vikings, and I thought, ‘Wow. This is unbelievable.’ Like I said, this has been a big part of my career, and what I’ve enjoyed doing is coming to schools over the years and really being with young people like you guys. I get a lot of energy – get a lot of positive energy – from you guys and really enjoy it. I just thought that this would be a fitting place to do it.”

On what his reaction was when the lights went off during the Super Bowl (student question): “That was kind of weird, wasn’t it? Normally, I would probably be thinking it was really weird, but when it happened it was just kind of … The Super Bowl is so crazy. There is just so much stuff going on that when it happened, it was just kind of like, ‘Wow. There’s one more thing.’ Certainly, we didn’t play really well right after it happened, so that wasn’t good. Sometimes things happen in life. You have to adjust, and things don’t always go to plan.”

On what he did when the team won the Super Bowl (student question): “I grabbed my other teammates on the offensive line, and we just huddled together. We were just so excited and celebrating. We were just running around, jumping and screaming, playing in the confetti and doing all of those things. [We were] doing snow angels in the confetti – yes – absolutely. It’s pretty cool.”

On what his favorite play in the Super Bowl was (student question): “The last one, when it was over. (laughing) That was pretty cool.”

On if the music made him tense during the Super Bowl (student question): “No, it was a little bit tense, because you are just so close to accomplishing your goal. I guess I was a little [tense]. Yes, I’m not going to lie. I was a little bit tense. It was a long four seconds.”

On how long he has played football (student question): “Fifteen years.”

On if he ever figured out who turned out the lights at the Super Bowl (student question): “Did I ever figure it out? (laughing) I have my suspicions, but I don’t know for sure.” (laughter)

On why he is retiring from football (student question): “I’m old. (laughter) I have six kids, and it’s just time. I have really enjoyed football, and I’ve gotten to play for a long time. I’ve been very fortunate, but I just feel like it’s time to do something else.”

On if he is going back to his hometown (student question): “Maybe, I guess I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I haven’t figured it out yet.”

On how close he is to Ray Lewis (student question): “I got to be Ray’s teammate for four years, and that was certainly really cool, because I’m a football player, but I’m also a football fan. I really like watching football, and now I guess I’m a fan again. To be able to play with somebody like Ray and to be able to call him your teammate is pretty special. Teammates are pretty close. It’s a special bond.”

On what his teammates have said to him once they found out that he was retiring (student question): “They haven’t said anything. I just told you guys. A couple of them heard I was, though. They have just said some amazingly nice things. It really makes me feel good inside.”

On when his first Super Bowl win was (student question): “My first Super Bowl win was a couple of weeks ago – first and last.”

On what he was doing during the blackout at the Super Bowl (student question): “I was just stretching out and drinking water. There really wasn’t much you could do.”

On if he will ever go back to any Ravens games (student question): “Oh, I think I’ll be back to a few Ravens games, yeah. They’re pretty fun.”

On if he feels sad about retiring (student question): “Yeah, a little bit sad. Yeah, I do – a little bit sad and a little bit happy. But yeah, definitely, definitely a little sad.”

(Larry Bryant does the Ray Lewis “Squirrel” dance) “Larry, I think you do it better than Ray [Lewis] does – just my opinion.”

On who he thinks will take his place (student question): “Who do I think will take my place? Boy, it’s … (Larry: “Me!”) You want to take my place? (laughter) Larry is going to start drinking more milk, and he’s going to take my place. We have a lot of great players on the Ravens, but if I were to guess, we have a young guy named Gino Gradkowski who will probably take my place. Should we take some questions from the old people in the back? I doubt their questions are as good as yours.” (laughter)

On when the decision to retire came to him: “It’s hard to say exactly. You wrestle with it; you go back and forth. I talked to [head] coach [John] Harbaugh, I think it was Saturday, and I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t even know why I’m calling you. I’m just calling you just to talk.’ And, we talked for an hour just about a lot of stuff. I mean, one, that’s why I love ‘Harbs.’ He’s a friend above all else. [We were] talking, and I said, ‘I don’t know, I just don’t know. I don’t know when I’ll make a decision or what it’ll be.’ But then yesterday afternoon I called him, and I got a hold of him, and I talked to him and talked to [general manager/executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome]. They were great, just great, great people. They said, ‘Don’t say anything publicly. Wait until next week and come to Baltimore, and we’ll do a big ceremony.’ I said, ‘No, we’re going to get this out of the way and move on.’ But, I told them yesterday afternoon.”

On what he will miss the most about playing: “All of it. Certainly, the guys, competition, [but] mostly the guys. That locker room, I would say, it’s a very unique work environment. The bond you have with your teammates is very unique; it’s very strong. And, that’ll be the biggest [thing missed], but like I said, I can’t complain, because I got to do it for a long, long time. For a guy like me, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

On if this is the perfect way to go out after winning the Super Bowl: “I mean, yeah, it is. You can’t ask for anything more. It is a great way to end it, but like I said, no one is entitled to a Super Bowl and certainly not me. But I’m just so grateful and fortunate that I could be part of this team, because it is a special team, and the run that we made – the championship that we won – was something we’ll never forget. I was telling ‘Harbs,’ I said, ‘The great thing is we get to come back every whatever, 10 years …’ It probably should be every year, Dick [Cass, team president standing nearby]. Maybe make it every year. (laughter) But you get a reason to come back and get together and relive those days, and you’re forever linked, and that’s pretty cool.”

On if his shirt, which reads ‘Finish Everything,’ sums everything up for him: “The reason I’m wearing this shirt is because I went and worked out this morning at the Ravens’ facility just one last time. It doesn’t look like I work out, but I do (laughter), and I forgot a shirt. This is actually Michael Oher’s shirt – it was hanging in his locker. (laughter) So, I grabbed it, but yeah, it does. I thought it was fitting. I thought it was very fitting.”

On if the reaction from his teammates means a lot to him: “Yeah, because I think when I look at my teammates, they’re people that I look up to. I look up to them. And some of the text messages that I got … And someone was forwarding me the Twitter – I’m not on Twitter, it’s hard to believe – but yeah, that stuff right there, it just stops you in your tracks and humbles you beyond belief. I was just reading a couple of them from Jameel [McClain] and Vonta [Leach] and guys like that. It’s like, ‘Wow.’ That means a lot. You play the game for a lot of reasons – the respect of your opponents, but more so the respect of your teammates is probably the biggest thing you’re shooting for.”

On if he’s confident that he could continue playing at a high level: “It doesn’t matter what I think. If anyone wants to challenge me, I’ll tell them, ‘Yeah’, because there’s no way you’re going to find out. (laughter) But it was great. Last year, I felt great, and that was a blessing, because it’s a physical game, it’s a violent game, and I was able to feel good and feel good about what I put out there on the field and just a good way for me to end.”

On his thoughts about G/C Gino Gradkowski and his ability to fill in for him next season: “Gino will be fine. The one thing about football is there [are] a lot of tangible things or requirements that you need, but I think the biggest thing about football is that it’s a character game, because it’s hard. It’s different from other sports. And Gino’s got that. He’s a great guy, he’s got a fantastic family, and Gino will do whatever it takes to be successful.”

On if he has any idea what he’ll do next and if he’ll work with the helmet technology and player safety that he’s been a part of in the past: “I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I’ll certainly try to continue to advocate for player safety and retired player’s rights – now that I am a retired player. (laughter) And we’ll see. I don’t have any plans for what’s next. I certainly didn’t plan on playing football for 15 years, so kind of not having a plan has worked out for me so far. I’m going to stick with it.”

On if there is anything he has reflected back on over his career, a moment, a game, a play: “It’s just kind of the little things. Sometimes you think about something that happened in a meeting, or you’re watching the film the day after a game watching a certain play. It’s the little things. I was telling my wife [that] 95 percent of the time, you’re just grinding away. It’s hard, you’re doing everything you can do to just … You’re in the grind. And it’s that five percent, these little moments you have … You might see a highlight on TV … I was watching the Super Bowl, and you see a highlight, and you say, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember that play.’ Those are the things that excite you and get your juices going again. But I guess I’ll always come back to just after the game, on that field, with teammates and with my family – that moment. It was a half an hour or whatever – but that long moment, we’ll have that forever. And that’s a great thing. It’s a great thing.”

On if he really didn’t know that this would be his decision until a few days ago: “I started talking about retiring six years ago. I mean, during the season it’s hard; it’s hard. Physically, you’re beat up. Mentally, you’re kind of fried. It’s hard. So, you always wait until after the season and you see how you feel. You go through your mind [looking at the] pros and cons, this and that. But just ultimately, I followed my heart. I just waited a couple of weeks for it to settle, and just kept coming back to, ‘This is the right decision for me and my family.’”

 

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