Mike Burke hated to lose.
He was known for his competitiveness – the most competitive employee his boss has ever known. If the Ravens had 22 Mike Burkes, they’d be even more difficult to mess with on Sundays.
But in October of 2015, Mike found himself competing for his own life when he was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal lung cancer.
On Friday afternoon, Mike passed away at the age of 39, surrounded by his beloved family. He battled the disease, while still trying to help others, for more than two years.
He leaves his wife, Michele, four children, Brennan and Christian (14), Adam (12) and Lily (8), hundreds of Ravens teammates and many more mourning his loss.
“He’s the kind of guy you wanted to have around, you know?” said Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales & Operations Baker Koppelman. “Part of the reason he probably hung on so long was he was so competitive.”
Mike joined the Ravens in 2000, just in time for the Ravens to win Super Bowl XXXV, and celebrated again at Super Bowl XLVII. For 18 years, he devoted himself to two things: his family and the Ravens, in that order.
Mike climbed to become the team’s director of ticket sales & hospitality. He started in ticket operations but moved to sales in part because of his competitiveness. After finishing his job responsibilities at games, he would watch the action* *in the ticket office at M&T Bank Stadium.
“He was a notorious screamer at the television,” Koppelman said.
Mike attended every home game while he was employed by the Ravens, even while battling his cancer, until late this season. One of his toughest days was when his streak ended. Even then, while at Dove House hospice center, they held a Ravens viewing party so he wouldn’t miss the game.
“Besides his family, his job was No. 1. That’s all he cared about was working for us,” Koppelman said. “He’s a classic Raven.”
Mike was originally from Pottstown, Pa., and graduated from York College.
Like any family member would, he loved to brag about his high school basketball days. His claims to fame were playing in a Christmas tournament against Kobe Bryant and scoring 12 points against Richard “Rip” Hamilton in a summer program.
Once he reached the Ravens, he became known for his play during softball tournaments. He played shortstop (of course) and called off anybody within shouting distance on pop flies. He clobbered the ball, slid when you’re not supposed to and grumbled at the other employee NFL teams. This past June, he helped bring the trophy back to Baltimore, despite his disease.
Mike’s mind and memory for sports trivia baffled those who knew him. He loved playing, coaching, talking and being in and around sports. He was the dad playing outside with the neighborhood kids.
But what he loved most was his family. Mike met Michele in college and beamed whenever he talked about her and their four children.
“He was an incredible family guy,” Koppelman said.
Mike never smoked a day in his life. He was just 37 years old when he was diagnosed, and it had already spread to his lower right lung, lymph nodes in his chest, liver and the bone in his left hip. It was a shock, but, true to form, he refused to accept the statistics and battled.
He transformed his lifestyle, all while staying engaged with his family, those close to him and his job. He worked to spread education about the dangers of lung cancer, even among otherwise-healthy, active, non-smokers. Mike hosted six lung cancer survivors at a Ravens game during the 2016 season.
Mike never lost. Not with a family like his. Not with a Ravens family like this. Maybe not even to Kobe.
He will be very, very missed.
Donations can be made online* at the family’s GoFundMe fundraiser. Maryland 529 college plans will also be set up for Mike’s children, and donations can be made there as well.*