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Birk, Ravens turn the tables for charity

Matt Birk's popularity on the Ravens showed Monday night, when six of teammates played celebrity waiters at the starting center's charity dinner at Morton's The Steakhouse.

"I had to dupe a few of them," Birk said jokingly. "They thought they were showing up for dinner. I wasn't exactly lying."

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Quarterback Joe Flacco was holding a plate of tuna tartar bites, but everyone wanted only to pose for pictures. The wait staff thought switching to mini crab cakes would help. Still, no takers.

"I think my arm is going to fall off," Flacco said while holding the full plate. "Nobody wants appetizers."

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"We only want you, Joe," said Arlene Thompson, a lawyer from Westminster and devoted Ravens fan, after she had a picture taken with Flacco.

The sold-out event benefited Birk's HIKE Foundation, which provides educational programs and resources to at-risk children in Maryland.

More than 200 people paid $250 each for the four-course dinner at Morton's, which was served by apron-wearing Ravens like Birk, Flacco, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, guards Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester, and tackles Michael Oher and Joe Reitz.

"I was really struck how this city and the state love the Ravens," said Birk, who had previously spent his entire NFL career in his home state of Minnesota. "My family and I felt so welcome. And here playing for the Ravens, it's an opportunity for me where I can do some good."

Before the reception, the wait staff gave the Ravens a crash course in serving food and drinks. Each one had to hold a wine glass on a tray before venturing out into the restaurant.

Chester spent the early part of the evening tending bar, where he opened beer and poured wine.

"Matt has been a great influence," Chester said. "I've learned so much from him on how to play at this level."

Birk chose to help children after the Minnesota Vikings' community relations director sent him to a school as a rookie. Seeing how a player can influence their lives led the six-time Pro Bowl center to begin his charity foundation in 2002.

"Talking to kids over the years, I always say, 'Education is what's most important to me,' " said Birk, a graduate of Harvard. "That's what I'm most proud of in my life that I've accomplished. And it will serve you for a longer period of time than football ever will."

Photo: Joey Friedman, 14, left, and his stepbrother, Josh Meister, 9, of Owings Mills, get their picture taken with Matt Birk after he signed their footballs. Baltimore Sun / Algerina Perna / May 10, 2010

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