NEW ORLEANS - At 36 and in his 15th NFL season, Matt Birk is about to play in his first Super Bowl.
Like Ray Lewis and perhaps Ed Reed, it would make for a storybook finish to a long and accomplished career for the Ravens’ six-time Pro Bowl center.
But Birk remains uncertain about whether he’ll continue playing football beyond Sunday or not.
Part of the reason is he isn’t quite sure what he wants to do when he’s done.
“It’s scary. I joke, but I’m kind of serious,” Birk said Wednesday. “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.”
Birk has a wife and six kids, so he has a family that becomes somewhat secondary while he’s away playing professional football.
But does his family want him to call it a career?
“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?’” Birk said. “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.”
After last season, Birk flirted with retirement but chose to return. The way the Ravens lost in the AFC championship last January played a role in his decision to come back, but so did a number of other factors.
“I mean, I always say that I’m playing until I’m not,” Birk said. “I told (the team) 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.”
Perhaps he’ll go through the same process once Sunday has come and gone.