Matt Birk , the Ravens' newly-acquired center, brings 11 years of NFL experience, six Pro Bowl invites and a reputable charitable foundation to the team. He also carries the anticipation of a new adventure as he starts a life in Baltimore.
In Minnesota, Birk helped pave the way for three of the Vikings' top rushing seasons (2003, '04, '07) and some of the team's best individual rushing performances by players like Adrian Peterson.
In Minnesota, Birk's athletic accomplishments gained him recognition when he was twice named All-Pro. This center's tremendous success on the field can be attributed to his resilient attitude and belief that "there's never a finished product."
With a great deal of knowledge and experience, Birk not only adds athleticism to the Ravens' team, but also leadership and insight.
Entering 2009, there is no doubt that the 6-4, 310-pounder is primed to do great things as he transfers his success from the Twin Cities to Charm City. Along with his football career, Birk is establishing a new life for his family in Baltimore and displaying a desire to give back to the community through his H.I.K.E (Hope Inspiration Knowledge Education) Foundation.
In an effort to learn more about Birk's transformation into a Raven and what he adds to the team, St. Paul's School for Girls' Sarah Gillmansat down with him for an in-depth Q&A:
Q: What do you like about Baltimore so far?
"So far, it's great. My family and I found a spot in the [Owings Mills] area. I guess coming from the Midwest, you hear about the East Coast and you think it's all concrete and skyscrapers, but it's beautiful out here. You see lots of woods, deer and foxes and those types of things. Just having a pretty landscape has made the transition easier on us. My family has been out here for about six weeks. We're still getting settled and it's a process, but so far it's been good."
Q: Was that a tough transition from Minnesota to Maryland?
"There have been some bumps in the road. My wife and I are from the Twin Cities area, so we left our families and friends and basically our whole lives back there and started new and fresh. Although it's exciting, fun and a challenge, there are sure to be some bumps in the road. And with four young kids, there are always some adjustment issues there. But that's what we do as a family – we work through them."
Q: How did your family affect your decision?
"I wouldn't have left if it wasn't all right with my wife. And my kids are young, so they don't have a lot of say on what goes on. So when it looked like things weren't going to work out in Minnesota, getting up and moving the family was a big decision, and I'm glad my wife and I are on the same page. We look at this as an opportunity for a great adventure, something that if we waited any longer and got further along with our lives and our kids got older we would never be able to do. That's kind of how we looked at it."
Q: You opened two restaurants in Minnesota. Do you have any future plans in that industry for Maryland?
"No, the restaurant business is a tough, tough business, which I found out. Again, it was a challenge and it was an opportunity. It was a lot of fun to do back there, but I'm certainly not a restaurant owner. I'm a football player."
Q: You were extremely involved in the Minnesota community with the Matt Birk H.I.K.E. Foundation. Do you plan to continue that service in Maryland?
"Absolutely, we are in the works right now with the Ravens' community relations department trying to have some things for next school year and programs we can open up here. I've always enjoyed being involved in the community. I feel like I'm very fortunate to be a football player and be in a position, especially with young people, where you have some credibility. With some of them, when you talk to them, they really listen. Basically, as athletes, we are role models. It is our responsibility to reinforce the same things they're hopefully hearing from their parents, teachers and coaches. I want to encourage them to work hard, chase their dreams and to assure them that if they work hard they can achieve anything."
Q: You are one of the most experienced players on the offensive line. What kind of lessons or knowledge do you think you are going to bring?
"I pride myself on being an open book. When I was young player, some vets took me under their wing and helped me. They were really open as far as the questions I had and showing me things. So I feel like it's my obligation now since I am fortunate enough to be an older guy. I think that when you are an older guy in this profession, you should consider yourself pretty fortunate because it's hard to get to that point. So I just try to be a resource for the guys. If they have any questions or anything, all I can do is draw from my experiences and tell them how I think about things or how I approach things."
Q: Do you have any particular advice for the rookies going into their first season?
"Basically, you have just got to work hard. The NFL is great, but it's not easy. And every day you really need to strive to get better. You like to think that every day you do get better, but you are going to have good days and bad days. I think what makes a pro is a guy who learns from his mistakes, but also from his success. [A pro] learns from his mistakes and comes back after a bad day more determined to succeed and do things right."
Q: How important do you think experience and good game sense is at your center position?
"Well, there is really no substitute for it. You practice a lot and try to do things in game situations, but there is no substitute for game experience – 'live bullets,' as we say. Like I said, I have been through a lot. I certainly haven't seen it all and I don't know it all. There are situations where I feel like I can draw from past experiences just to help clarify things and really help guys get through something – a certain look, a certain blitz, whatever. Then you'll offer it up. If coach thinks it's a good idea, then great. But if not, then that's OK, too. We're all just trying to do things the best way we can. There's really no pride of authorship."
Q: You only started playing center during your second season in the NFL. Why do you think you fit the position so well?
"I don't know. I was lucky, first of all, in Minnesota that I got to learn from a great guy in Jeff Christy. He was a great veteran guy – a great player, but smart player. He really taught me that you have to see the whole picture. Jeff was great, very open to helping me through my maturation as a player. I think that people think that once you do this for a while you've got this down and that you're kind of on cruise control. This thing's never easy. Every day I feel like I have to come out here and prove myself and approach it like I'm going to get better and not just stay the same at this level when it's so competitive and everyone's so good. I just feel like I'm still developing. The whole career, it's a process. There's never a finished product."
Q: How do you think this season is different from your first season in the NFL?
"The first season I had no idea what to expect. Coming from the Ivy League [Harvard] is obviously a huge jump with the athletes and the speed of the game. There are some similarities here, just because I'm not as comfortable with the system yet. But I'm definitely picking it up faster. We did a lot of the same things in Minnesota. We just had different terminology than here, so I can pick it up quicker. But still, I can remember being a rookie, and same thing now, there are certain situations because things happen fast out there. If you really have to think about it, you're done, because then you don't play fast.
"Now I know that knowledge really is power and that if you know what to do, you can come off the ball and play fast. Here, if you hesitate for a split second, you're done. I'm not good enough to give the guy a step or a half a step. Very few guys are, so I know that being a veteran I have to pick it up as quickly as I can. And I think that also being around for a while, I think that hopefully I do learn from my mistakes a little faster and don't make the same mistakes three, four, five times before I learn from it."
Q: How has it been working with Joe Flacco, the rest of the offensive players and coordinator Cam Cameron?
"It's been great because everyone has such a great attitude as far as working and getting better, and that's really what we stress. Maybe that's because there are a lot of young guys, but it makes me feel a little younger. I'm not going to sit back and rest on my laurels or anything like that because these guys are all out here and their mindset is that they are going to bust their butts and get better. So my job as the new guy is to fit in with the group and do things the way the whole group does it. It's been a lot of fun so far."
Q: Do you have a favorite football moment from any time in your career?
"There probably isn't one that sticks out, but I know that being in Minnesota for 11 years and then leaving it was a chance to reflect on my time there because it did come to end. You just realize all the great, great people you meet. Not just the guys you play with, but their wives and kids and you know their families over the years. That's the best part about it. When I signed here, I heard from a lot of the guys I played with over the years. It makes me feel fortunate that I have had that many good people come into my life via football."
Sarah Gillman is currently interning with the Baltimore Ravens' public relations department.