Ravens six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk insists he hasn't decided whether he'll retire after the Super Bowl.
In his 15th NFL season, the 36-year-old Harvard graduate and married father of six children will contemplate his future during the offseason.
Right now, all of his attention is focused on the Ravens' Super Bowl matchup with the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
"I don't think like that, you know," Birk said when asked if he has thought about retirement. "I'm just trying to live in the moment. That's just kind of my mindset. I don't think about the future, if this could be it. It drives my wife nuts, but that's not how I operate. I don't know what it will be like when I walk away, but I'm very fortunate.
"You realize how lucky you are. You realize it won't last forever. Most of my friends through football, guys my age, are done playing. They always tell me, 'Never retire, take it from us. The damage to your body is already done, so keep going. The real world isn't all it's cracked up to be.' You certainly realize this is a unique way to make a living, a unique atmosphere, unique work. You got to enjoy it because you work too hard not to enjoy some of the moments."
Although the Ravens drafted rookie offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski as their designated center of the future last spring, Birk could still have more football left in him.
Birk started every game this season and drew praise for limiting New England Patriots Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vince Wilfork to one tackle in the AFC championship after struggling against him a year ago in the AFC title game.
Birk is under contract through the 2014 season after signing a three-year, $8.5 million contract last spring that included a $2.1 million signing bonus.
"I'm not sure about Matt’s plans, and if he decides to come back next year, that’d be awesome," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Matt Birk has been a huge part of this program for the last four years. He's smart, he's tough. To my eye, he is playing the best football that he’s played since he’s been here right now at this point.
"To have that be true at the end of a 24-game season is very impressive. So, he’s just done a great job for us, and we would not be where we’re at without Matt Birk.”
Birk started every game for the seventh season in a row, giving him a consecutive game streak of 112 consecutive games for the NFL's longest active streak among centers.
After struggling with knee, neck and ankle injuries in recent seasons, Birk quipped that he's only been in the training room a handful of times.
“I don’t tape my ankles or wrists or anything,” Birk said. “I walk through and grab Q-tips and clean my ears. I've been very fortunate to be very healthy this year. It certainly makes it more enjoyable when you're feeling good.“
A former Minnesota Vikings standout who grew up in the Twin Cities in St. Paul, Minn., Birk joined the Ravens before the 2009 regular season.
If this marks the end for Birk in Baltimore, it's been a strong run.
"Losing definitely does take its toll," Birk said. "The older you get, you get to a point where you're too old to play just to play. Losing takes a lot out of you. When I made the big decision to leave, I could have left, but I just felt like there was something more out there. When I came here to visit, talking to coach Harbs for a few hours, I just felt like there was something special here.
"I'm not going to say my gut's always right. When it comes to food, my gut is normally right. You got to make a decision right there and then. It's a big decision. It's your life, it's your family. I just felt like there was something special here and I can remember telling Harbs, 'All right, I'll sign. Let me sign before I change my mind.'"Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun