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As a player who spent 11 of his 12 years in the NFL in Minnesota, the first time Ravens center Matt Birk steps on the Metrodome’s bright green turf as an outsider could be an odd feeling.
Birk grew up in St. Paul, attending Cretin-Derham Hall High School. The Vikings drafted him in the sixth round in 1998 out of Harvard. He then went on to star in six Pro Bowls for the NFL’s other purple team.
But even though he has that much history in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Birk cannot forecast his emotions for Sunday.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” he said. “I’m not really into trying to predict it or anything like that. Obviously, there are other things I’ll be focused on. Things I can’t control, I can’t control. I’m not going to worry about it.”
Through 123 games, Birk manned the Vikings’ center position, molding himself from a prospect out of Harvard into one of the league’s best keystones. He was active in the community. Birk even opened a restaurant.
Will he treat this road game any different than others among his reputable 12-year career?
“In a lot of ways, it’s another trip, but I guess in a lot of ways it’s not,” Birk simply said.
I can sort of imagine how Birk is feeling. I traveled to Charlotte in the preseason earlier this year for the first time in my five-year NFL career. Not only did I have to get mom and dad tickets and pre-game field access before kickoff, but I also had to carve out time to see a ton of friends and family in a small window of time. There was a lot to think about outside of the game.
I’m not saying that Birk will be distracted by that – especially because he’s the consummate professional – but it’s notable that there are probably 100 or more people that will want to see him.
Regardless, Birk’s experience in Minnesota is valuable to the Ravens.
The Vikings feature a stellar front seven, led by run-stoppers Pat and Kevin Williams, there is the threat of running back Adrian Peterson and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is one of the toughest places to play.
Birk’s comments regarding the “Williams Wall:” “There’s a familiarity there, but you just go out there and play. When you’re playing, you’re playing against a guy, but you’re not. You play your own game and you do what you do. Certainly, up front all the way across the line, they’re extremely talented. Their front seven – their whole 11, really – they are tough, they are a solid defense. It’s not a fluke that three years in a row they have been No. 1 against the rush. I saw it every day. They’re good, they’re good. So, all the blockers are going to have their hands full on Sunday.”
Re: Peterson: “He’s a special guy. Those players, no matter what position they play, physically, they are extremely talented, but mentally they have that attitude that
they can do it. He’s certainly believes in that. He’s certainly proved that he can do it. He’s definitely a special kind of guy.”
And, about the noise in the Metrodome: “It’s not a secret. It’s a loud place to play. It’s certainly something if you don’t prepare for and you’re not ready for, it’s going to be a huge disadvantage for you. I’ve seen it firsthand many times. But we’ll be ready. That’s something we always talk about, going on the road and combating the crowd noise.”
It will certainly be a nice homecoming for Birk.
But a Ravens win will make it all the more sweeter for him and his new team.