Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Many Ravens Realize This Is Last Best Shot

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Many Ravens Realize This Is Last Best Shot

Article excerpt

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Matt Birk made his debut in the NFL as part of a Minnesota Vikings team that went 15-1. Minnesota reached the playoffs in each of the next two seasons, too.

Although the Vikings never made it to the Super Bowl during that span, Birk figured it was only a matter of time before he would be fitted for a Super Bowl ring.

Now the starting center for the Baltimore Ravens, Birk is 35 years old and in 15th NFL season. He is still waiting for a chance to be part of pro football's biggest spectacle.

"Two out of my first three years in the league I went to the NFC championship game," Birk said. "At that time, I probably didn't know what it meant or just how precious it was. And I haven't been back since."

Birk is one of 35 players on Baltimore's 53-man roster to have participated in an NFL playoff game. Only one, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, owns a Super Bowl ring.

For many of the Ravens veterans, this postseason run could represent their last chance to win a championship. Although Baltimore has reached the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, this team might be the best of them all.

After going 12-4 and winning the AFC North, the Ravens enter today's home game against Houston (11-6) as the No. 2 seed in the conference. With a victory, Baltimore will move within one win of booking a trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

"This is probably my best shot at it," Birk said. "My first year we were 15-1. That team and this team are the two best I've ever been on. The last three years we've been kind of building to this point. I think we've gotten better each year. Somebody my age, I realize this is probably my last and best shot at it."

Safety Ed Reed joined the Ravens in 2002. He has received eight Pro Bowl nominations -- including one this season -- and has played in nine postseason games. But he is still waiting to experience the thrill of playing in the Super Bowl.

He isn't getting younger, either. Reed has several gray hairs and no longer finds the trip to Hawaii for the league's all-star game to be worth the bother.

"I couldn't tell you the last time I've been to the Pro Bowl," he said, "so that tells you how I feel about that. …

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