Each Wednesday we'll bring you a Q&A with a Ravens player to help you learn a little more about the team. Today's guest is center Matt Birk, who has anchored an offensive line that has helped the Ravens rank fifth in the NFL in total offense, sixth in rushing and eighth in sacks allowed. Birk, a former Viking, addresses returning to Minnesota as an opponent, developing chemistry with his current offensive linemates, and becoming a fan of coffee.
Question: Can you describe your emotions about visiting the Minnesota Vikings in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for the first time as an opponent?
Answer: I have no idea. How would I know? How could I even guess? Purposely, I'm not trying to predict it. It'll be a very unique experience, and I'll try to take it all in.
Q: What kind of reception are you expecting from the fans who adored you as you spent the first 11 years of your NFL career in Vikings purple?
A: I'm from there [St. Paul]. Those are my brethren. But I don't know. Those people, they love the Vikings. I'm not expecting too much, let's just put it that way.
Q: What do you miss most about Minnesota?
A: The people. I'm from there, and it will always be home for me and my wife. We're both from there. My parents, my brothers, friends, they're who I miss. Being out here has been great, but obviously, that's less time for those people. Right now at this point in my life, I just can't be as close to those people as would be ideal. But at the same time, too, you've got to leave the nest and experience new things and grow a little bit - personally, spiritually and professionally. That's kind of the big-picture thing we're doing here.
Q: If Brett Favre had announced his intention to play for the Vikings before you had left for the Ravens, would that have influenced your decision?
A: I don't like to play the what-if game, but no.
Q: Have you been surprised at how seamless your transition to this offensive line and offense in general has been?
A: It's easy from the standpoint that the guys have been great from the start. And I take the approach that I'm just one of those guys. One thing that we do is we work hard. I think as long as you're not afraid to work, you'll fit in well here.
Q: Has it been easy to absorb the playbook and make the necessary line calls?
A: I wouldn't say easy. That's [a product of] a lot of hours of studying on our own and a lot of hours in meetings and things like that. Just because you're able to accomplish something to a certain degree doesn't mean it's easy. It's always a work in progress. Every week, there are new challenges and new hurdles and new things to deal with and overcome.
Q: What was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment?
A: My rookie year, it was New Year's Eve, which was on a Friday, and we had practice the next day. So like a good little rookie, I was at home - not out on New Year's Eve. I'm watching the news, and two of the veteran guys - who were notorious for pulling pranks on a lot of people - were doing a live interview in front of my locker, which had been moved outside to the middle of the practice field. They put it under the goal post with a hose over the top that wet all my stuff so that it would freeze. So I'm sitting there at 10 o'clock at night thinking, 'OK, I've got to get up real early the next morning to go in and get that stuff off the practice field.' I guess that was when I thought: "OK, I guess I'm one of the guys now. I've earned my stripes."
Q: I read that you skipped the 2002 Pro Bowl because that was the same weekend as your wedding to your wife, Adrianna. Was that a difficult decision for you?
A: You think I made that decision? I've had a lot of women come up to me and say: "Oh, you're so sweet and so sensitive. You decided to skip the Pro Bowl for your wife." So I let them think that I'm one [heck] of a guy. No, that was the year when everything got pushed back a week because of Sept. 11. When they pushed [the Pro Bowl] back, that was on our wedding, and I said, 'Well, I'm obviously not going to make it.' And my wife's Italian, and we had something like 600 people coming in. Not a tough decision to make - and one that I'd be glad to do all over again.
Q: You and your wife have four children and are expecting a fifth after this season. How do you find time to sleep?
A: Sleep is very overrated. Family's obviously important, football's obviously important, so sleep is sometimes what you cut out. But that's life. That's what you've got to do sometimes. I drink a lot more coffee than I used to, though. When I started in the NFL, I never drank coffee. Now, I would consider myself a coffee addict.
Q: By now, many people know you graduated from Harvard. Is it true that you nearly abandoned Harvard during Christmas break of your freshman year?
A: If it was up to me, I wouldn't have gone back. It was rough. It was a great, humbling experience. It was the first time I had left home, had left my comfort zone. In your senior year of high school, you've kind of got it made and you've got all the answers. And then you go out there, and with football and school and everything, I just kind of got my [behind] handed to me. But my dad told me that I was going back. And I thought, "Well, I guess I'm going back." And thank God I did.