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Ravens center Birk walks away after 15 NFL seasons, first Super Bowl triumph

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Ravens center Birk walks away after 15 NFL seasons, first Super Bowl triumph

Posted on 22 February 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After a 15-year NFL career and finally winning a Super Bowl earlier this month, Ravens center Matt Birk figured it was the perfect time and setting to reveal he was walking away from the game.

In lieu of a fancier press conference at the team’s Owings Mills facility next week, the 36-year-old offensive lineman announced his retirement on Friday morning while dedicating a literacy center at Battle Grove Elementary School in Dundalk. Wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Finish Everything,” Birk couldn’t specify a time when he made his final decision but spoke to head coach John Harbaugh for roughly an hour last weekend and said he hadn’t made up his mind at that point. He phoned the coach and general manager Ozzie Newsome on Thursday afternoon to reveal his decision.

Taking questions from the Battle Grove students before opening up to the gathered media, Birk was asked why he was retiring. The quick-witted center didn’t disappoint in laying out his answer.

“Why am I retiring? I’m old, I have six kids, and it’s just time. I really enjoyed football. I got to play for a long time. I’ve been very fortunate, but I just feel like it’s time to do something else.”

Birk spent the last four seasons with the Ravens after playing for his hometown Minnesota Vikings for the first 11 years of his career. Named to six Pro Bowls in his career, the Harvard University graduate was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft and earned his first championship in being part of the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

It was the perfect ending for a career that began with Birk struggling to make the Vikings’ 53-man roster in 1998 and ended with the grizzled veteran celebrating with teammates and his family on the turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans after finally reaching the pinnacle of the NFL for the first time.

“You can’t ask for anything more,” said Birk, who went to work out at the Ravens’ practice facility a final time Friday morning. “It is a great way to end it, but like I said, no one’s entitled to a Super Bowl. Certainly not me. I was just so grateful and fortunate that I was able to be part of this team. It is a special team and the run that we made — the championship that we won — is something that I’ll never forget. I was telling [Harbaugh], you get a reason to come back and get together and relive those days. You’re forever linked, and that’s pretty cool.”

Despite playing well this past season, Birk was expected by many to retire to spend more time with his family as the father of six children. He said Friday that his wife Adrianna had offered her blessing for him to continue playing if he wanted to return next season. Birk signed a three-year, $8.525 million contract after contemplating retirement last offseason, but the deal was structured in a way that many expected the longtime lineman to either retire or be released after the first year of the deal.

Asked whether he thought he had anything left in the tank to continue playing if he desired, Birk quipped that no one would be able to find out the truth.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” said Birk as he laughed. “Anyone who wants to challenge me, yeah, I’ll tell them [I can still play] because there’s no way you’re going to find out. It was great. Last year, I felt great and that was a blessing. It’s a physical game; it’s a violent game. I was able to feel good about what I put out there on the field. It was just a good way for me to end.”

The Ravens will save $2.05 million in salary cap space with Birk’s retirement, which will provide some relief as they deal with limited space and hope to work out a long-term contract with quarterback Joe Flacco. Baltimore drafted Delaware’s Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round of last year’s draft with the intention that he’d eventually take over for Birk.

The retiring center expressed confidence that Gradkowski would be ready to take over at center in his second professional season.

“Gino will be fine. The biggest thing about football is it’s a character game because it’s hard,” Birk said of his 2012 understudy. “It’s different from other sports. Gino’s got that. He’s a great guy. Gino will do whatever it takes to be successful.”

Birk was named the NFL’s 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his work in the community, which includes his HIKE foundation to improve literacy. His foundation’s goal is to “impact the lives of at-risk children by providing interactive programs and resources needed to guide a child through the key educational transitions between elementary, middle, high school and college.”

Several teammates expressed congratulations to Birk via social media on Friday morning as the veteran was considered one of the leaders in the locker room in a different way from the demonstrative and vocal leadership of Ray Lewis, who was the first member of the championship team to announce his retirement back in January.

Birk was touched by messages posted on Twitter from several teammates including Vonta Leach, Jameel McClain, and Torrey Smith.

“That means a lot,” Birk said. “You play the game for a lot of reasons, but the respect of your opponent and more so the respect of your teammates is probably the biggest thing you’re shooting for.”

Cognizant of player safety concerns in the NFL, Birk has said he will donate his brain to Boston University’s School of Medicine for research into concussions.

His post-football intentions remain unclear, but the Minnesota native predicted Baltimore hasn’t seen the last of him by any shot.

“I’ll continue to advocate for player safety and retired players’ rights — now that I am a retired player,” Birk said. “We’ll see. I don’t have any plans for what’s next. I certainly didn’t plan on playing football for 15 years. Kind of not having a plan has worked out for me so far. I’m going to stay with it.”

Making the difficult decision to leave the hometown team he grew up rooting for following the 2008 season certainly wasn’t part of any plan, but he was immediately impressed with Harbaugh’s vision for the Ravens despite the coach having only finished his first season in Baltimore.

It’s safe to say the gamble paid off in choosing a new football home after 11 seasons in Minnesota.

“At the time, I just said, ‘[With] the limited information I have about the Ravens, I’m going to bet on this guy and I’m going to come here,’” said Birk, who labeled Harbaugh a friend first and foremost. “I’m sure glad I did. From the beginning, the organization and the city just welcomed us with open arms.

“I don’t need to tell anybody what this team means to this 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.”

 

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Sizing up the Ravens’ possible salary cap cuts

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Sizing up the Ravens’ possible salary cap cuts

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Unless you’ve been hibernating since the glory of Super Bowl XLVII, you’re well aware of the Ravens’ salary cap woes and how critical the negotiations with quarterback Joe Flacco will be between now and March 4.

The entire offseason will hinge on whether the sides will come to an agreement on a long-term contract by that date or if the Ravens will need to use the franchise tag on their starting quarterback. Further complicating the matter would be the decision to use the $14.6 million non-exclusive tag — leaving Flacco able to negotiate with other teams — or the exclusive tag that will cost somewhere around $20 million but would take him off the market entirely.

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations before the start of the new league year on March 12, the Ravens are likely to make at least a couple cuts in hopes of signing some of their unrestricted free agents. However, the reality of using the franchise tag would mean multiple changes simply to fit Flacco under the salary cap as Baltimore is estimated by NFL.com to be $12.9 million under the cap before addressing the signal-caller or any of its restricted free agents or exclusive rights players.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player is offset in part by an additional player making it into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. Bobbie Williams ($1.2 million)
Skinny: The offensive lineman was relegated to reserve duties in favor of Jah Reid midway through the season and will either retire or be released. At 36, Williams will need to find a home elsewhere to continue his career, but after finally winning a Super Bowl after years in Cincinnati, he would be picking an ideal time to walk away from the game. The Ravens will go younger and cheaper to fill his reserve role in their group of offensive linemen.

2. Matt Birk ($2.05 million)
Skinny: When Birk signed a three-year contract last offseason, it was structured with an understanding of it essentially being a one-year deal as the cap figures grow substantially over the last two years of the deal. The Ravens drafted Delaware product Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round last April to be the heir apparent to Birk at the center position, so all signs point to him taking over for the 2013 season. The 36-year-old Birk is contemplating retirement and there remains a possibility the Ravens decide to keep Birk — who played very well down the stretch — for one more season if they can sign Flacco to a long-term deal in time, but most signs point to the veteran’s days being finished in Baltimore.

3. Vonta Leach ($3 million)
Skinny: The Pro Bowl fullback has done everything the Ravens could have possibly expected after signing him two summers ago, but his high cap number makes him a prime candidate to be cut considering his position just isn’t a big enough priority with the offense continuing to move toward the passing game. The Ravens would certainly miss Leach’s punishing blocking ability, but they could shift tight end Ed Dickson to more of an H-back position while also adding a younger, cheaper fullback coming out of college. With other positions to address and the lack of cap room, Baltimore just can’t justify paying a fullback so much money.

4. Brendon Ayanbadejo ($806,000)
Skinny: His lower number is the reason why the reserve linebacker isn’t ranked higher on the list, but Ayanbadejo would easily be expendable given his age and role on the team. The defense depended on him less in passing situations this season and the 36-year-old also had some lapses on special teams down the stretch. Saving less than $1 million on the cap doesn’t do much, but parting ways with the former Pro Bowl special-teams player would seem like a logical move to make with minimal impact on the makeup of the team if you need to clear money from the cap.

5. Jameel McClain ($1.8 million)
Skinny: If you could look into the crystal ball and guarantee the Ravens would re-sign fellow inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, it would be a no-brainer to part ways with McClain, who missed the end of the season after suffering a spinal cord contusion in early December. However, considering the Ravens are losing the retiring Ray Lewis and potentially Ellerbe, general manger Ozzie Newsome would be hesitant to part ways with another inside linebacker. McClain is solid against the run, but his limitations in pass coverage make him an expendable player if the Ravens are confident they can lock up Ellerbe, which obviously isn’t a sure thing at this point.

6. Jacoby Jones ($4 million)
Skinny: The return specialist and No. 3 receiver carries a large cap number, so his status will be in jeopardy if the Ravens need to use the franchise tag on Flacco. His speed on the outside was a major asset in taking pressure off fellow speed receiver Torrey Smith and opening the intermediate portion of the field to Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, but he is still a part-time player offensively. You’d hate to lose Jones’ tremendous return ability, so there’s a good chance the Ravens would explore a contract extension to lower his cap figure and keep him for a few more years before potentially making the difficult decision to release him. Jones is owed a $1 million roster bonus in March, so that could complicate the situation further.

7. Anquan Boldin ($6 million)
Skinny: The wide receiver’s appearance on this list is based strictly on his cap number and how far that space would go in curing the Ravens’ problems if it comes down to the franchise tag for Flacco. His quarterback would be one of the first to say he wants Boldin to remain in Baltimore, so it’s likely Newsome will pursue an extension with the 32-year-old to reduce the 2013 cap number before resorting to a release. Boldin has already said he’d retire if the Ravens cut him, so perhaps the general manager could remind him of that in trying to strike a cap-friendly deal. The departure of Jones would hurt, but parting ways with Boldin would almost appear to be crippling in the short term as there is no logical replacement on the roster to count on with the disappointing development of Tandon Doss.

 

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Birk believes taking care of older players right thing to do

Posted on 31 January 2013 by WNST Staff

CENTER MATT BIRK

(on what has impressed him most in the playoffs about QB Joe Flacco) “I don’t think it’s just this postseason. He’s done it all year. He does it all the time. He just goes to work and does his job. He’s certainly played well. I think Joe always plays well. There have been some games this post season – because of situations we’ve been in or the way defenses have played us – where they’ve kind of said that Joe’s not going to be the one that beats us, so they focus on Ray Rice and try to take away the running game. Those games have kind of been in Joe’s hands and he’s stepped up and gotten the job done. I’m impressed by it, but I’m not surprised by it.”

 

(on being satisfied with the medical care he’s provided as a player) “I’ve always felt like I’ve gotten great care from the teams I’ve been on. Obviously it’s a tricky situation. As players, we expect to be safe and we want to be safe but at the same time we play a very physical game. I think that we can always make strides and always continue to improve the type of care that we’re giving our players while they’re playing and after they’re playing. We can’t expect them to take care of everything. I guess I’m saying that unfortunately it’s part of the game. Guys suffer. I’m not saying we should try to solve it, but we should try to take care of them the best we can. Doctors aren’t perfect. The medical system isn’t perfect. So I would say that I’m satisfied. I think that we do get great care and obviously they invest a lot of money in players to try to keep us well and keep us productive and on the field. Some of that responsibility has to fall on the player.”

 

(on adjustments the offensive line has made this postseason) “Bryant McKinnie had to move to starting left tackle. Jah Reid went down. He was our starting left guard, so Bryant moved into left tackle. Michael Oher goes from starting left tackle to right tackle. Kelechi Osemele moved from right tackle to left guard. So there are three new pieces in there and it’s worked out well. The guys have had to move have had the biggest adjustments and they just did it. That’s what was best for the team. We figured that gave us the best chance to win and have those five guys out there. We would just try to make the most of it.”

 

(on being outspoken about player safety and defense) “There’s just a sense of what’s right. I’ve always felt very fortunate to be able to play this game, and obviously to make a very good living doing it. That hasn’t always been the case for players. I came into the league in 1998 and played with guys who were in the league in the 1980s. Financially speaking, they were quick to tell me it always hasn’t been like this. In 1994, things started getting pretty good for the players. They’ve continued to be good. They reminded me that it hasn’t always been like this. This has been a long, hard fight. It started way before I got here. So I think there is a sense with those guys that because of their actions and their sacrifices, they’ve allowed us to do this and be able to provide for our families in such a manner that we owe it to them that we try to take care of them as much as we can and give back a little bit. Because medical care, all of those things, it wasn’t the same 30 or 40 years ago but the players today are the ones benefiting from it.”

 

(on plans to donate his brain when he died) “You get used to (the conversation). Like I said, I compare it to being an organ donor. To me it’s not that big a deal. Terrible pun – it’s a no-brainer (joking). It really is, because once you’re gone, you’re gone, and if some or your organs or body parts can help somebody else or help further the understanding of the effects of football then I’m all for it.”

 

(on worrying about the effects of football in his life) “Sometimes you worry about it, especially if something happens like you can’t find your car keys. You think, ‘Oh my gosh.’ You overreact a little bit. You think, ‘Is this from football, is that why I can’t remember why I came into this room?’ It’s not, especially if you’re a parent. You have mush brain. Do I worry about it? I don’t worry about it but I surely try to do everything I can to keep myself healthy and if I can try to prevent something that happens down the road, I’m going to take those precautions.”

 

(on his current level of play and deciding whether or not to retire) “I will think about my decision after this game. I’m playing until I’m not. There’s a lot that factors into that. It’s not just football. It’s family. I just really like playing with this group and this team, with the group of guys playing the offensive line, playing for Coach (Andy) Moeller and Coach (John) Harbaugh and all of those guys. I think that’s why I’m so inspired and motivated every day to keep working hard to keep trying to get better.”

 

(on taking his time to think about retiring) “I don’t think that anything would happen Sunday that would make me decide right then and there or sway my decision either way.”

 

(on Joe Flacco in the playoffs) “It’s Joe. He’s always had great focus. He doesn’t get caught up in all the things that come along with being an  NFL quarterback. He’s always focused on the task and I think he just loves football, loves preparing, and loves going out there and competing. The catch that he gets, the contract and all that stuff, I don’t think it’s really that important to him. It is but it isn’t. At the end of the day I think his main focus and his task is to just play in the game and to play as well as he can.”

 

(on the Joe Flacco saying the offensive line has been a key in the post season) “That’s just of Joe to say, but we just try to do our job and give Joe and Ray (Rice) and Dennis (Pitta) and Anquan (Boldin) and Torrey (Smith) and Bernard (Pollard), all our guys, all our playmakers, chances to make plays. That’s our job, to do our job so that those guys can do the special things that they can do.”

 

(on his previously expressed opinion opposing gay marriage and how that differs from his openness to having a gay teammate) “I guess I could say this as many times as I want and people aren’t going to believe you, but that’s not a hateful attitude towards people who are gay. I have gay people in my life – gay people in my life that I love. If you’re asking me if I would accept a gay teammate: yeah absolutely. It would be really not that big of an issue to me personally.”

 

(on why no NFL player has publicly come out as gay) “It’s probably because of fear and how they’re going to be accepted or not accepted in the locker room. I think most NFL players feel very fortunate to be able to do this for a living, so maybe if a gay player comes out, they might think it might hurt their career or their chances. Unfortunately, I think it’s just based on fear of the unknown and how people are going to react.”

 

(on whether or not he and Brendon Ayanbadejo (who has advocated for gay marriage) have had debates on the issue) “Yeah, we’ve had some discussions. Obviously on the issue of marriage we couldn’t be further apart, but he’s my teammate and I respect him. I’ve known him since before he was my teammate and continue to respect him. I just think he’s wrong and I’ll just kind of leave it at that.”

 

(on where the Ravens are in terms of preparation for the game) “I think we’re right where we normally are for games, come this time of the week. You try to keep things as normal as possible and just try to prepare like we always do as players and as a team. We’re kind of creatures of habit. We have comfort in our routine and that takes some of the guesswork out of things, so we’re just trying to keep things as normal as possible and I think we’re right where we’re supposed to be.”

 

(on practice translating to game play) “You can’t practice hard and well and not get better and that’s our motto. That’s how Coach Harbaugh runs it – Coach John Harbaugh (laughs). We came ready to work and are going to work, because we’re here so we might as well work and make it a great day. In anything, whether football or life, hard work is the key to success.”

 

(on distractions in the media this week) “During the course of the season, it’s so long that stuff happens whether it’s public or in your private life. Stuff happens. Part of being a professional player is being able to block that stuff out and compartmentalize things and stay focused on the task at hand. That’s what it takes to be a professional athlete. Some guys can’t handle that. They don’t last long. I don’t think teams that can’t handle issues that come up are going to be successful, because things happen. Life happens. I’m not really concerned about the distractions or issues that the 49ers have had. There’s stuff out there about lots of different things on this team. That’s fine. We’re not going to let it impact our preparation and our performance on Sunday. That’s just the mindset that we have.”

 

(on practicing on a baseball field with crosswinds in New Orleans) “It’s just part of the deal. It’s the way it is. You can’t do anything to change it. Like I said, we were out there and said, ‘Hey, let’s just go to work and work hard and not worry about what we don’t have but focus on the opportunity that we do have to have a great Wednesday practice.’ I think we did that.”

 

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Birk seeing same old Flacco during biggest week of QB’s career

Posted on 30 January 2013 by WNST Staff

CENTER MATT BIRK

(on his decision to return for this season) “I mean, I always say that I’m playing until I’m not. I told Art after the season, I just need some time. Every year is just exhausting and the way our season ended last year, it takes a while to process those emotions. For me, before my physical well-being, if I feel like I can do it again or if I want to do it I need to make sure that it’s good for my family. People say, ‘What do you mean it’s good for your family? You’re an NFL player. You make a ton of money.’ But it’s a big sacrifice on their part, on my wife and I have six kids. You have to coordinate a lot of things and you have to make sure everybody is on board. (My family) just kind of took off; we have a little place we go to and hang out for a couple of months and that’s what we did. I don’t try to set a timeline on it or rush the decision. I just wake up every day and just live and see how I feel. It just got to the point and made the decision that we could do it again.”

 

(on if how close the team was last year played into his decision to return) “A little bit. That was as tough of a way to end the season as you can probably have. It was kind of in the back of my mind, I sure would like to give it one more run with this group.”

 

(on the success of the offensive line) “We just study real hard and we work fundamentals and techniques. There is no secret formula, you just try to prepare as well as you can and then go out there and do your best. It’s a good feeling to know as an offensive lineman that you have a quarterback and you have receivers and running backs that we know if we do our job up front those guys are going to make plays and good things are going to happen for our football team.”

 

(on the most difficult task for an offensive lineman) “It kind of depends. It depends on the situation and who you’re going against, who your opponent is. The most important thing as an offense is to have balance and to be able to do both and then the defense can’t key in on one or the other and you can keep them off balance a little bit.”

 

(on what he will do after football) “It’s scary. I joke but I’m kind of serious. People say, ‘What are you going to do when you’re done?’ and that’s probably why I’m still playing. The unknown is scary in some ways. You’re never going to be able to replicate some of the feelings, some of the emotions that you get playing this game. But I think it’s also important too, that’s a good life lesson to have: to keep everything in perspective. If this is as good as it gets for you then you’re in trouble. Through spirituality, through your family, through relationships, a lot of things, you need to have everything in the right perspective and you need to realize all of this is going to be gone someday. It ends for everybody.”

 

(on if his family wants him to retire) “Sometimes but then in the offseason I’ll be home for a month or two and they will be like, ‘Isn’t it time for you to go back to work?’ I like to try to get involved and they have a rhythm at home. When we have the reentry period in the offseason where I’m home a lot more, there’s always a few bumps on reentry.”

 

(on how Joe Flacco has been this week) “Joe has been Joe. He’s always the same, that’s the thing about him that you have to love. He’s not impressed by anything or anything that he does. Obviously he’s a hot topic this week but it doesn’t really affect him one way or the other. I really don’t think he cares too much.”

 

(on his expectation for Joe Flacco on Sunday) “I expect for him to be Joe. To go out there and play solid like he always does. He’ll do whatever is asked of him to help our team win.”

 

(on if this is the final opportunity for a lot of guys on the team to win the Super Bowl) “I don’t know if this is it but there are a lot of guys that are getting up there in years (in the league) and this is their first opportunity and you never know when it could be your last. We talk about opportunity a lot, how you have to seize the moment and appreciate the moment and make the most of the opportunity. The future, who knows? I know teams go through that, they have a window that will close and then they rebuild but as far as the Ravens’ franchise overall, they’ve been pretty good for a long time. It’s a pretty big window that they’ve had but the future is unknown. You have to make the most of it.”

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Birk promoting player safety at Super Bowl

Posted on 30 January 2013 by WNST Staff

CENTER MATT BIRK

 

(on getting involved with the new device a sensor by MC10 and Reebok for tracking the impact of hits) “I guess football has done so much for me in my life and I think it’s a great game. Not just aside from playing professional football, but I think it’s a great game to teach a lot of lessons and a lot of things about life that are very valuable. I think especially as NFL players, we should try to help the game in making it as safe as possible. That’s certainly a hot topic these days, and in our game that filters down to the kids’ level, and as a father and as someone who’s concerned about kids and their safety and just doing everything we can to make the game safe and make it positive.”

 

(on the device a sensor by MC10 and Reebok helping the college and high school level) “The device were talking about is the sensor from MC10 and Reebok.  It gives you instant feedback on the impact of hits during a game and it talks about head injuries and concussions it’s not like a broken bone or something that’s very evident to the eye or to a medical doctor so this device gives you instant feedback as far as the impact and how great it was, in order to measure that so coaches and parents and medical staff aren’t waiting until after to get that data. Right away they know there’s an impact and a reason to be alarmed and get the kid out and taken through the battery of testing.”

 

(on how the concussion message has changed the NFL) “The culture has definitely changed.  Way back when you didn’t really talk about it and it wasn’t really considered, in a lot of ways, a real injury by players because that was just the talk in the locker room.  You just played through it, you did everything you could to play through it.  Nowadays with all of the things we’re finding out with the long term effects, attitudes have changed among players, and, if a guy has a concussion, it’s definitely accepted in the locker room because it’s so important as a player and on a team to have the respect of your teammates.  Now a days with all of the unfortunate data and cases that come across now, its okay to say ‘Yeah I have a concussion I can’t go back out.’”

 

(on donating his brain for research) “It’s my obligation as a professional football player to try to do my part to make the game as safe as possible for future generations.  I don’t really look at donating my brain as that big of a deal, it’s kind of like donating an organ.  I think it’s something that I should do.”

 

(on motivating his teammates to also donate their brains for research to the Boston University project) “I’ve talked to them about it and just try to explain it.  It’s kind of a morbid thing when you think about it and it kind catches you, but really if you think about it, it’s not that big of a deal.  You don’t need it once you’re dead and I think it’s important for the cause and for them to compile as much data so they can learn as much as they can about head traumas and the effect it has. CTE and all these things that weren’t on anybody’s radar five years ago.”

 

(on what his hope is in donating his brain and his involvement in this cause) “Just to make the game safer.  I think this is great that we’re having this discussion now.  Five years ago we weren’t talking about this and it’s so important for our game at the professional level and the future of it, but especially and more importantly, for the hundreds and thousands of kids that play football.  It’s a great game.  The best thing about football is the things that it teaches you about life and being a part of a team, something greater than yourself, values, teamwork, hard work, overcoming adversity, all of those things, and to show all these kids who play that they’re as safe as possible and can have a positive experience.”

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Birk admires Oher’s versatility

Posted on 29 January 2013 by WNST Staff

 

CENTER MATT BIRK

 

(on if he thought it would take 15 years) “I didn’t think I was going to be here 15 years later in 1998.”

 

(on he and Randy Moss starting together that year at opposite ends of the publicity spectrum) “I was fortunate enough to play with Randy for seven years and the way he took the league by storm was unbelievable.  To be a part of that and to be his teammate for seven years, we had a lot of fun in the locker room and obviously won a lot of games in large part to him.  I haven’t kept in touch with him or anything like that, but obviously I’m happy for him and that he’s still playing.  I think Randy’s been through a lot, gone through a lot of different things, but I understand having been his teammate for seven years what a competitor he is and how hard he works.”

 

(on the time and effort he’s put in and what it means to get here with the guys in his locker room) “Just being here with these guys, this is a special group.  That was obvious when I got to Baltimore.  Being here for four years, it’s just a tight-knit group and we really are a team and that come from Coach Harbaugh.  If you’re not about the team you’re not going to play for the Ravens.  Obviously we have great players, Hall of Fame players, guys that their impact isn’t measured only on the field, but off the field as well.  It’s just a blessing to able to play with those guys.”

 

(on any misconceptions about Randy Moss in a general sense) “I would just say he was a great teammate, extremely hardworking.  I mean the things he did on the football field were fantastic.  Those are the guys you want to play with, those types of competitors.

 

(on if this is a dream matchup) “These are two very physical teams, alike in a lot of ways and the physical aspect of football. That element is never going to change and big games you have to be physical.  The two teams here are physical.  It’s our 20th game of the season, we’re not going to change what we do and they’re not going to change what they do.  It’s going to be pretty straight forward.  I think the way the game evolves and changes and so much in passing and spreading out the field and doing things.  I like the fact that just as a fan it comes down to these two teams and this style of play to decide the world champion.”

 

(on Joe Flacco’s development) “He’s just continued to get better.  It’s been five years evolving and every year he’s gotten better and other guys have developed along with him that are young players.  Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Dennis Bennett, guys like that.  Joe’s gotten better, but I think a lot of guys around him have gotten better as well.  It’s kind of a two way street.”

 

(on Joe Flacco being a leader in the locker room) “I think just Joe being Joe.  He is who he is and he’s very comfortable with that.  The person he is and his personality.  He doesn’t try to be somebody he’s not.  The quarterback position is a leadership position and hopefully you have to play well and Joe’s done it time and time again.  He’s proven that he’s an excellent quarterback on big stages and he plays well and you do the best you can to respect your teammates.

 

(on the special feeling you need to have in the playoffs to win and coming back sense the middle of the season) “I think we have great leadership on this team.  I think Coach Harbaugh is a great coach and a great leader.  I think the guys in this room, their performance and their careers speak for themselves, but they’re not guys that a just in it for themselves.  They’re team guys, they lead and the rest follow.  Everybody’s going to have bumps in the road.  You’re going to have downs in the middle of the season and we understand that and you try your best to avoid them, but it’s going to happen.  I think when we had ours nobody panicked because players still believed in players and in coaches and coaches believed in players and we still believed in the way we were doing things.  We know that you get rough patches during the season it’s a long season, but we just have to do things the way we’ve been doing.  Our philosophy is just come to work ready to work and try to work as hard as you can and to get as good as you can and that’s basically all we do.”
(on the length of time he’s been in the league and what it feels like being here) “I feel very fortunate to be playing this game and to be doing it with this group of guys.  It’s a special group of guys all the way around and nobody’s entitled and nobody deserves to play in the Super Bowl, but everything really came together for us.”

 

(on President Obama saying that if he had a son he would have to think long and hard before letting him play football because of the physical toll it takes) “I have three sons and I think anyone who is a parent can relate to that.  Certainly it is a dangerous game and we’re finding out more and more, every day, the long term effects that this game can have.  I think it’s a joint effort with the commissioner, with coaches, with players, with everybody, everybody that wants to watch and make this game as safe as it can be.  I think we’re making strides in that.  Football’s a great game.  Obviously it’s a great game for NFL players, it’s how we make a living, but most kids who play football aren’t going to make it to the NFL.  It’s such a great game because it teaches you about life and lessons and there’s so much to be gained by participating in football.  It’s served us all well and just to continue to have this conversation and continue to talk about it and just do whatever we can to make it safer  whether it be through rule change or research.”

 

(on how important Coach Jim Caldwell has been to this team) “Obviously he’s done a great job.  It’s probably less than an ideal situation.  I think his track record speaks for itself and what he’s accomplished in this league.  I think he helped Joe (Flacco) progress, get a different coach, different voice and a different viewpoint and this offense as a whole, he’s obviously brought a lot of ideas and when he became coordinator he was able to put his stamp on it, his personality a little bit more.  Fortunately he’s been successful.”

 

(on the dynamic of the changes in the offensive line) “We always talk about chemistry on the offensive line, five guys because you work together so much and ideally you’d love to have five guys in there at the same position all season.  That’s not the way it worked out for us, but you get back to the team philosophy that we have and everybody buying in and what was best for the team.  Guys like Michael (Oher) and Michael’s been back and forth many times throughout his career and he just does it.  He doesn’t complain. He just does it because he knows that’s what’s best for the team.  Brian (Williams) did a great job of just staying ready all season to jump in and Kelechi (Osemele) as a rookie you lean so much and you’re learning curve is so steep and he’s playing left tackle for 16 games and then all of a sudden get switched to guard.  Those guys, they just want to win.  They’re about the team and whatever it took when we had to make those changes because of injury and everybody just went all in and did the best they could.”

 

(on Bryant McKinnie and Aldon Smith matching up) “It’ll be a great matchup. Bryant’s been a great player in this league for a long time.  Left tackle  position, you’ve got to be able to block guys one-on-one in the pass and obviously with Smith, the year that he’s had and to do what he’s be able to do is phenomenal.  That’ll be two great players going at it.”

 

(on Alex Smith going out with a concussion and if that hurts the advancement of the safety issue) “I don’t know that situation particularly, but I think the culture has changed for the better in the last few years as far as concussions are concerned.  I think the attitude is that it’s not smart to play with a concussion.  You’re not doing your team any favors by trying to play through a concussion because you can.”

 

(on if he had the information now based on the research they’re showing, would that have affected his decision as far as playing) “I don’t know.  It’s hard to say.  I have three sons and once they get to a certain age and want to play football, I’ll let them.”

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Ravens enjoying AFC Championship moment, but thinking ahead for more

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Ravens enjoying AFC Championship moment, but thinking ahead for more

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Ryan Chell

Owings Mills-It’s been a crazy 24 hours for the Baltimore Ravens, the media covering the team, and for the fans cheering on the team in Charm City.

Less than a day after coming back from a 13-7 halftime deficit to beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro to win the AFC Championship and earn a chance to win Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans on February 3rd, the Ravens were back at work Monday working as if they would be taking on the next opponent-in this case the San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re going to work,” Ravens center Matt Birk said in between meetings today. “With all the side stories- if you’re not playing in the game, you can enjoy all that. I think as players we’re just going to hunker down and focus in on the task at hand.”

“We’re going out there as a team trying to get where we’re at,” quarterback Joe Flacco said, who threw for three touchdowns in the Ravens’ 28-13 victory over last year’s AFC Champion Patriots. “We’ve got to win one more. ”

Despite the workmanlike attitude, Flacco however still says some of what happened Sunday night feels like a dream.

“I think we’re still on a little high from the game,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s quite believed it yet.”

His companion on the offensive line agreed.

“I’m just kind of numb to the whole thing. Slowly it’s coming, but hopefully you realize and appreciate the moment,” Birk noted.

But Birk couldn’t say enough about all the hard work and persistence the Ravens have shown over the season  pay off for a chance at a Super Bowl title.

“It’s great. That’s your goal,” Birk noted.  “That’s your dream. That’s why you play…with the closeness of this team and how far we’ve come my last four years getting close and finally breaking through, it’s pretty special.”

Certainly for the 15-year veteran in Birk, he admitted that he wouldn’t be in this situation if he felt like didn’t have a shot at reaching the Super Bowl, which is the first appearance for the 36-year old center.

“At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you. When I came back, I thought there was a legitimate chance that I felt like I could help the team.”

Meanwhile, Flacco, who is in his fifth year in his journey as an NFL quarterback, has hurdled Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and now Tom Brady in the quest for his first Super Bowl.  It seemed as if overnight, he made himself one of the best quarterbacks in the league, put himself on the map as an elite quarterback in the NFL, and has been the topic of discussion across many football circles.

But what has Joe Flacco been asked the most since winning the AFC Championship?

Super Bowl Tickets.

“Tickets are going to be limited,” Flacco joked. “There’s been a lot of text messages, and everyone’s really excited about it.”

Flacco said the quicker he can put those distractions behind him, the better he’ll be going up against Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and the rest of the San Francisco defense.

“You have to get all the mayhem that goes with the game out of the way and take care of that first,” Flacco said, “so when you focus on the 49ers, they have your full attention.”

Bernard Pollard reacts to Tom Brady slide and kick

One day after calling Patriots QB Tom Brady’s leg kick into Ravens safety Ed Reed, “bull-crap”, fellow Ravens safety Bernard Pollard backtracked a little saying that the NFL needs to call flags “both ways.”

Right before the end of the first half Sunday night with the Patriots up 10-7 with 0:26 seconds left before the break, the Patriots were knocking on the Ravens door threatening to score.

Brady, flushed out of the pocket by Paul Kruger, scrambled down to the Ravens’ 7-yd line with Reed barreling down on him. Deciding to give himself up, he took a slide-but not before sticking his right leg up, hitting Reed in the groin and tripping him up.

No flag was called with the side judge standing right next to the play, but several Ravens defenders petitioned for Brady to be penalized. A fine could be coming.

Pollard told CSNNE and other outlets Sunday night, “You’ve got to keep those legs down. We all know and understand what’s going on there. As a quarterback, when you go to slide, we’re taught we can’t do anything. When you come sliding, and your leg is up in the air, trying t kick someone, that’s bull crap.”

Today, Pollard was a little bit more reserved, but kept the same message.

“He knew what he was doing,” Pollard said. “I’m the kind of player where it has to go both ways. Hopefully the NFL will do something about it. If not, that’s fine if they do. For me as a player with all the emotions on the field, we’re going to say and do things. But when it’s all said and done,  if you want the game clean and you want everything to be moving forward in the right direction, everyone needs to be penalized for their actions.”

Follow WNST on Twitter for your Ravens Super Bowl News! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

 

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 20 January 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 28-13 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship Game to clinch a trip to Super Bowl XLVII…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Jim Caldwell

4. Pernell McPhee

3. Marshal Yanda

2. Bernard Pollard

1. Joe Flacco (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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Your Monday Reality Check: Hyperbole aside, line play why Ravens still riding

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Your Monday Reality Check: Hyperbole aside, line play why Ravens still riding

Posted on 14 January 2013 by Glenn Clark

WNST.net Ravens insider Luke Jones joined us for “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” late Saturday night after the Baltimore Ravens’ unbelievable 38-35 2OT win over the Denver Broncos.

Emotions were high in the Zone Superstore Studios of WNST.net. It was hard to have a legitimate conversation. A group of us had gathered to sit and watch the game and just found ourselves shouting “no way” and “unreal” at the television as the Ravens delivered perhaps the most miraculous victory in franchise history.

It was hard to discuss anything beyond the emotion of the moment, the will of the football team, the observations related to the Ravens truly being a team of “destiny”.

Even Head Coach John Harbaugh was caught up in the moment, once again tying the success of a football team to a level of divine intervention in his postgame press conference.

(I have no idea if the Messiah has any interest in determining the outcomes of football games. Perhaps maybe he (she?) felt as though the Broncos had to pay a price for parting ways with the known prophet Tim Tebow in the offseason. And if the Ruler of the Universe really does have concern related to the pigskin, I would vastly prefer a divine preference for the Ravens myself.)

I wish I could tell you what Luke’s response was. More than 24 hours later, I don’t fully remember. What I believe I remember him saying was something about Joe Flacco and then more about the will of the football team. I’m completely in agreement, but it didn’t necessarily answer my question. I’m sort of glad for that.

There’s a well known joke that says “Joe Buck is to baseball what the Catholic Church is to sex. It’s okay that it’s happening just as long as no one is enjoying it.” I’m glad Luke didn’t ruin the beauty of the moment by going all “Nate Silver” and killing us with football nerd-dom. It’s much better that we had a full 24 hours to enjoy and celebrate perhaps the greatest non-Super Bowl win in franchise history before we returned to a more X’s and O’s based discussion of what happened for the Baltimore Ravens Saturday and what they’ll need to do to win moving forward.

(This is the part where you say, “that’s a nice set-up Glenn. You’re a real pro’s pro.”)

The Baltimore Ravens DID win Saturday because of their will. They DID win Saturday because they believed in each other and never lost hope. They DID win Saturday because they have tested veterans who simply refuse to give up or allow a beloved teammate to step into retirement without leaving every last ounce of effort they’re capable of giving on the field.

It’s not just hyperbole. There’s absolute truth to it. It’s just not the entire story. In fact, it’s not even close to the most important part of the story. We go to that stuff first because it’s more likely to get clicks. We’re not stupid.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Broncos

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Broncos

Posted on 18 December 2012 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce 15 yard run negated by Matt Birk holding penalty (2nd quarter)

4. Rahim Moore recovers Joe Flacco fumble on 3rd & 1 forced by Justin Bannan (1st quarter)

3. Eric Decker 51 yard TD catch from Peyton Manning (3rd quarter)

2. Joe Flacco pass intended for Torrey Smith incomplete on 3rd & 10 (3rd quarter)

1. Chris Harris 98 yard TD return of Joe Flacco interception (2nd quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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