No one appreciated that improvement more than Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and finished second in rushing yards. After collecting a franchise-record 15 touchdowns in 2011, Rice awarded members of the offensive line and fullback Vonta Leach with watches when the Ravens returned to the Owings Mills facility on Monday.
Unassuming and witty, Birk talked about the gesture with the stereotypical dimness of an offensive lineman.
“It’s like no watch I’ve ever had before. It actually has hands on it,” said Birk, drawing laughs from the gathered media. “Ray got us a little something. We should probably be buying him something. He probably makes us look better than we are. [I] certainly appreciate it.”
Rice’s gesture aside, Birk is looking for a different piece of jewelry as he approaches the end of an impressive career: a championship ring. He and the Ravens can take another step in that direction when they host the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
“I think one of the great things about football is the delayed gratification,” Birk said. “You really work an entire year to reach that goal, to get to the Super Bowl.”
For the longtime veteran, it’s been years of labor in the trenches, injuries, and early-morning treatment sessions without the opportunity to play on the biggest stage. And before Birk calls it a career, he hopes to finally realize that gratification.