Derrick Mason's heart never left Baltimore even after leaving to play for other NFL teams.
Now he's back – forever.
Mason officially retired Monday afternoon at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md., ending a 15-year career that included eight years in Tennessee, six in Baltimore and one split between the New York Jets and Houston Texans.
"This is my football home," Mason said. "Tennessee gave me an opportunity to play this game and I will be forever grateful to them. But when I came here, it just felt like, regardless of where I was at, this place felt like home. This is my football family."
Wearing the same suit he wore when he signed with the Ravens, Mason didn't shed any tears. He didn't seem giddy about leaving football behind either.
He just seemed to be at peace with the fact that it was over.
Mason said he learned a lesson last year when the Ravens released him before the start of training camp. He saw that the NFL is a business, which is why he holds no ill will.
He also learned that no place made him feel the way Baltimore did, which is what made retiring an easy decision.
"I was already basically in retirement mode," Mason said. "My heart was still here in Baltimore, but I still had to go perform a job. I never had the sense of community, the sense of family at those other places. So I knew it was about time for me to give it up.
"I didn't have that passion that I once had. I've always said, 'When I can't play the game and play it like a little kid and have fun playing it, then there's no need for me to do it anymore. When it becomes a job, I need to quit.' It became a job last year."
General Manager Ozzie Newsome signed Mason in 2005, snatching him away from New England, where Mason revealed he almost went before choosing to help build an offense in Baltimore. Mason also admitted he was tired of facing the Ravens' elite defense.
Newsome called Mason one of the best, if not the best, free-agent signing he's ever made, topping a list that includes tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson and defensive end Michael McCrary.
"I don't know if there is any one player over the span of their career that did more for this organization than Derrick Mason did," Newsome said.
Mason retired as the team's all-time franchise leader in receiving yards (5,777) and catches (471). The receptions are the 11th most in NFL history. He owns the top three Ravens seasons in receptions with 103 in 2007, 86 in 2005 and 80 in 2008.
Mason's the only player in NFL history to post at least 5,000 total return yards and 10,000 receiving yards.
But statistics weren't the focus Monday. They aren't what he's most proud of.
Mason simply wants to be remembered for the way he played.
"I played the game as hard as I could each and every game," he said. "I practiced as hard as I could each and every practice. … The thing I'm most proud of is being able to stay on the field and be as consistent as I was over my 15-year career."
Mason never missed a game as a Raven, and played in 149 straight from 2002 to 2011. Head Coach John Harbaugh could hardly remember him sitting out a practice.
"Your competitive spirit, your toughness, mentally and physically, your work ethic," Harbaugh said to Mason. "Those things could never be challenged."
The game that stuck out most to Harbaugh was when Mason played with a cracked scapula in Dallas in 2008. He still caught six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Harbaugh's most memorable play was a 62-yard touchdown in 2010 against Detroit when two defenders crashed into Mason simultaneously and he kept his feet and still raced into the end zone before doubling over in pain.
Those aren't the moments Mason remembers most fondly, however. It wasn't the game at all.
He said it was his charity work around Baltimore, specifically his Holiday Helpers event in which he would take about 150 underprivileged Baltimore-area children shopping for Christmas to buy gifts for themselves or family members. Mason reached out constantly.
He did so because fans reached out to him when he signed in 2005. After playing for rival Tennessee for eight years, he hasn't forgotten how he was accepted into the Baltimore community.
"It says something for a city when you play them year in and year out and they boo you, and then you come to their town and they cheer you and embrace you like you've been there forever," Mason said.
Now Mason enters the next chapter of his life. He spends more time with his two kids, and was helping coach at a local high school football team in Tennessee. For now, he's mostly just relaxing. Mason's ultimate hope is to land in sports journalism, either as a radio or television host.
"You can't count your chickens before they hatch, but hopefully I'll be on someone's television or in on someone's radio," Mason said before cracking a joke. "But I think this is smile too pretty to be on radio."
Wearing the same suit he had on when he signed in Baltimore, Mason went out with class.
He thanked everybody in the organization, from Owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome*and *Harbaugh, to the man who served him meals in the cafeteria. He thanked the fans of Baltimore. He thanked the media.
His closing statement was: "My run is over. It was a good one, and I'm happy."