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Ravens C Birk retires after 15 seasons

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BALTIMORE (AP) - Matt Birk's final game was a Super Bowl victory.

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The veteran center of the Baltimore Ravens retired Friday after 15 pro seasons.

``To cap it with a Super Bowl win, that's a great thing,'' the 36-year-old Birk said. ``But, regardless of that, had that not happened, it would have still been a fantastic experience and one that I would have been very thankful and grateful for.''

Birk, the NFL's Man of the Year in 2011 for his community service, announced his retirement at Battle Grove Elementary School. A father of six, Birk established the ``Ready, Set, Read!'' program, an initiative developed by his H.I.K.E. Foundation (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge and Education) that motivates students to read at home.

``My name is Matt. I play for the Ravens. Did you hear that the Ravens won the Super Bowl? It was good stuff, right?'' he jokingly told the students.

A sixth-round draft selection out of Harvard in 1998, Birk played 11 seasons in Minnesota before going to Baltimore. He went to six Pro Bowls and played 210 regular-season games with 124 consecutive starts, including the playoffs.

Birk is from St. Paul, Minn., so playing for the Vikings was special for him.

``Just to play in the NFL is obviously a dream come true. To do it for your hometown team is even better,'' Birk said. ``What makes it better is you get to share the experience intimately with your family and friends, and with those people who helped you immensely along the way to get to that level.

``I'll never forget after Vikings games, being out in the parking lot, my parents and our neighbors had the greatest tailgate party every single Sunday. We would have hundreds of people come. It was like everybody was welcome.''

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the 36-year-old center played the best of his four seasons in Baltimore this past year. He lauded Birk's leadership skills.

``Young players could watch Matt and know that was how to be an NFL professional,'' Harbaugh said. ``He took notes like a rookie, he owned the weight room, and we would have to push him to take some plays off in practice.

``There are reasons he played at such a high level for 15 years.''

Playing the later stages of his career as the long-term impact of head injuries became a major issue, Birk has agreed to posthumously donate his brain and spinal cord to the Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University's School of Medicine for head trauma research.

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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