Matt Birk Speaks (updated Pts I & II)
PFT INTERVIEW: MATT BIRK
10 February 2006
In response to a suggestion from a reader that we might gain more credibility with readers and the media if we were to actually interview players and other NFL types on a semi-regular basis, we decided that it would be much easier to just continue to make stuff up and pawn it off as fact.
Then we realized that it might be a good idea to devote some time to doing something more than mongering rumors and parroting the news nuggets that others mine. So we got the software to make audio files and we bought a device that turns a telephone handset into a microphone and we lined up an interview with, of all people, Matt Birk of the Vikings.
But then we realized that the equipment doesn't interface well with the phone system at the PFT law office, resulting in an annoying amount of background noise in the recording. We've ironed out the problem, which will allow future audio interviews to be created and played. For now, we've transcribed our 30-minute visit with Birk.
Which, of course, has enabled us to make stuff that he said up and pawn it off as fact.
Here's Part One.
PFT: Good afternoon, good morning, good evening, good whatever time of the day it is that you might be listening to this. This is Mike Florio, Profootballtalk.com, and we are excited to begin what could be the first of many, or what could be the first of only one, interviews with real life people who actually earn a living in and around the NFL. And we aimed high for the very first endeavor. We have on the line today Pro Bowl center of the Minnesota Vikings Matt Birk. Matt, is this really you?
Birk: It's me.
PFT: This isn't Matt Birk from Topeka? This is Matt Birk, Pro Bowl center of the Minnesota Vikings on the line with us. See now the problem is, Matt, we've talked to you first, the pressure's gonna be on to follow it up with somebody else who's good and whose name people will recognize.
Birk: Well hopefully I can set the bar at least off the ground for you.
PFT: I noticed that you've been with the Vikings for eight years now, and you grew up in Minnesota, St. Paul specifically. Were you a Vikings fan when you were growing up?
Birk: Oh, absolutely. I was a kid 20 years ago and it's not like you had Sunday Ticket or any of those things. You got one game on Sundays in Minnesota, and that was the Vikings game. I remember going to church with my brothers and dad and we'd all go home and sit in front of the TV for the game.
PFT: Now tell me this, when you were a kid, did you know what the hell that thing was on the Vikings helmet?
Birk: No. No. Even looking at it now, it's a pretty poor depiction. It's supposed to kind of have that 3D look to it, like the horn actually is sticking out of the side of the helmet. I think it's time to update that, or at least get somebody to get a crack at it.
PFT: I think they should actually put horns on the side of the helmet. That's got aesthetic benefit and strategic benefit.
Birk: Yeah, that could be like a bull. You could hook the guy's jersey with the tip of your horns.
PFT: I remember when I was a kid I had no idea what that was. And then once somebody tells you, it's like, "Okay, now I understand it." But I think there's a lot of people out there who don't know what it is.
Birk: I remember when I was a rookie in 1998. We had a mascot. The best way to describe it, it was like a purple dinosaur. A slightly meaner version of Barney. And that was the same question a lot of people had that year. "What the hell is that thing on the field?" We went 15-1, so everyone thought they were gonna bring it back. But they decided to put him out of his misery, I guess.
PFT: You were a sixth round draft pick out of Harvard in '98. You became a starter in 2000. You had four straight years of 16 starts a year, and then all of a sudden, preseason of 2004, you had this hernia thing. How did you know it was a problem? Was it during training camp that you knew you had trouble?
Birk: Pretty much. Kind of leading up to training camp I had some tightness in my groin and down in that area, and just thought that I was tight. And then the first day of training camp, I remember we were doing a conditioning test and I just could not burst in full speed sprint, which is not that impressive for me anyway. But I was slower than normal, and something was wrong. The trainers kind of checked me out, with injections and pictures taken and this and that, and they ruled pretty quickly it was a sports hernia.
PFT: You had that fixed and then you didn't miss a whole lot of time. How much did you miss for that first one?
Birk: I had the first one done during training camp, so I basically missed all of preseason and started opening day. When I came back after about two games I knew I had the same thing, except it was on the other side. So I had to play during the season with that. Every week it just kind of gets worse and worse. The tear keeps getting bigger. A sports hernia is a tear in your abdominal wall. The tear gets a little bigger or your body is compensating for that injury, so the rest of your body takes a little more wear and tear each week. It finally got to the point, Week Ten, where we decided that I was going to go under the knife again and be ready for the last couple of games of the season and the playoffs. I did that and came back and knew right away that I had it again on the original side.
PFT: It came back on the left side?
Birk: Yeah. Basically, what I needed to do -- or what I didn't do was take adequate rest after the surgeries and it ended up catching up with me.
PFT: And then in the offseason last year you had both of them fixed again, right?
Birk: I had both of them fixed after the season, took a bunch of time off, came back, started working out again, and then realized I had a different kind of pain in my right hip. And they found that it was a torn labrum in my right hip. So I went in and got that fixed. They're pretty sure that was caused by all the compensating I had to do while playing with sports hernias. I had that torn labrum fixed and then came back from that and, sure enough, I had a torn labrum in my left hip. So I had that fixed and went on injured reserve for the 2005 season.
PFT: You know, there's been so much talk this past season about sports hernias. Donovan McNabb had one until he shut it down after that Cowboys game on a Monday night. It just came out last week that Tom Brady has one, too. I guess the lesson is that this isn't just some no-brainer that you go in and get fixed and you're good as new in a few weeks.
Birk: I mean, it basically cost me the 2005 season, trying to play through it and come back. I tell guys right now, "Don't mess with it. Respect what this injury can do." I'm living proof that it can mess you up for a while. I certainly wouldn't advise anybody to try to play through it. As an athlete you always think you can play through anything, and that's what I thought. But it cost me a full season of football. Looking back now, I don't think it was worth it.
PFT: How's it going now? You've had the surgeries, you've had the time off. How are you feeling?
Birk: I feel great. I'm probably 90, 95 [percent]. I don't say 100 because I won't know for sure until I get out there in August with pads on and bang it around. Last year, I had a discussion with the team whether to play or have the surgery and go on injured reserve and they kind of made the decision for me in the end ultimately to have the surgery and I think it was definitely in my best interests and right now I'm happy that that's the direction it went.
PFT: During the period of rehab, what kinds of things weren't you able to do?
Birk: After the hip surgery, it's 12 weeks of no running. They don't want any type of impact other than crutches for the first week or two. After that, no more impact than just walking. There's 27 muscles that run through your hip, and after the surgery the physiology of your body is a little different. They cut a piece of your labrum out, and then your whole body and all those muscles kind of try to get in sync again. For 12 weeks I could lift weights with my upper body and I could ride a stationary bike but that was about it.
PFT: So now that you're closing in on 100 percent, does that mean you're going to be available for the so-called voluntary minicamps that get started in about, what, a month or two?
Birk: Yeah, I would go today if they started today. Normally, this is the time of the year as a football player when you go underground. You don't wanna talk football with anybody, you don't wanna see football on TV or anything. Certainly, with everything from this past season I'm in a different situation.
PFT: You're itching to get back into it.
Birk: Yeah, and I've never even been slightly anxious to get back into it. Just to make sure that I am healed and get back out there and feel like you're a contributing member of this football team again.
PFT: As to the offseason program, we've heard over the years how important they are, and how much of the offense and defense gets installed. Is that how they are in Minnesota?
Birk: This year will be crucial for us. Obviously, having the new staff, we have a lot of days of practice and a lot of time in the classroom. When you're talking about putting in a whole new system and getting 53 or 75 guys all on the same page, these camps are as crucial as ever. We ran the same offense my first eight years here so camps were more of just a pain in the ass for us veterans. We knew exactly what we were doing, we could have done it in our sleep. It's certainly not the case this year with the new staff.
PFT: It seems like there's less and less talk every year about whether these voluntary camps are really voluntary. More recently, it's just a given that guys who are serious about it need to be there. Do you get the sense that players just don't even grumble about it anymore? That they just accept it as part of the job?
Birk: Yeah, if you're not at these camps then people wonder, "Where's that guy at?" There might be one or two guys [absent], but that's about it. I don't know of any job that I can wear sweat pants and a baseball hat to work every day and get to go out on the field and run around and make the kind of money that we make. I don't wanna give up this gig.
PFT: There's plenty of jobs out there where you can wear sweat pants and a baseball cap, but none of them pay quite what you guys are making.
Birk: That's the trick. To get both of those things.
PFT: So you expect that there's gonna be 100 percent participation or close to it once things get rolling?
Birk: I'd say especially with the new staff I'd be shocked if it wasn't 100 percent participation.
PFT: You're going through a definite transition. You've had Mike Tice as your position coach and then head coach after that. What was your own reaction to the fact that he wasn't gonna be back for 2006?
Birk: I have a lot of history with Mike, and in those eight years we had more than just a working relationship. But I don't think it was a shock to anybody. Most of us can read the newspaper. It wasn't a real shock when he did get fired. But it doesn't take you long to realize that this is a business first. Coming into this league, you as a player or as a coach are replacing somebody and somebody is gonna replace you someday, too. It's just kind of like you just shrug it off and say, "Well, that's how the business works."
PFT: Have you had a chance to sit down and talk to Brad Childress since he was hired last month?
Birk: Just briefly. He definitely had his hands full immediately after he got the head job here, hiring a whole new staff and figuring out how everything works around here. I sat down with him briefly and I'd actually met him before at a couple of Pro Bowls. I told him I was excited to play for him and told him that I personally have a lot to prove to a lot of people after last year. The sense I got from Coach Childress is that he's extremely focused in on his job and the task at hand and what he wants he to accomplish. He's one of those guys where you can sense the intensity in the room, and he seems like a straight shooter and a fair guy.
PFT: What do you make of this speculation regarding Daunte Culpepper? Do you envision the team under any set of circumstances trading him?
Birk: I doubt it. Daunte's obviously had more good games than bad here. Before last season, they were talking about him as a potential MVP candidate. I don't think after seven games and an injury you just give up on a guy. But at the same time, everyone's anxious to see how Daunte recovers and comes back from this devastating injury. Only time will tell. They obviously haven't given him nearly enough time to heal up and don't know if he'll even be ready for this season. I think before you cut ties with a player like that you want to see what kind of product he's able to give you when he's fully recovered.
PFT: Have you talked to him at all during his rehab?
Birk: I haven't. He had his surgery and kind of went back home. This is home for me, so I was up there at the facility every day, trying to feel like I was part of the team. I know that when you do get hurt in kind of a serious way like he went through, you go through a little soul searching, a little bit of depression, things like that. But I'm sure that when we get to minicamp we'll meet up again.
PFT: What do you think the problem was the first seven games before he got hurt? Was it the fact that Scott Linehan wasn't there? Was it the fact that Randy Moss was gone? Was it the fact that you weren't out there? Or was it a combination of all three?
Birk: I think it was a combination of all those things. That's a lot of variables to change from one year to the next. Who's to say if he didn't stay healthy all year that in game eight he wouldn't have turned it around and everything would have just kind of clicked for him? He can be a somewhat streaky player, and there's just so many things that were different from '04 to '05, he was just having a hard time finding his groove. It's like the old adage, the quarterback gets too much credit when you win and too much blame when you lose. It wasn't like he was singlehandedly going out there and costing us games as an offense. People weren't making plays.
PFT: Do you think that not having Randy Moss there anymore had an impact?
Birk: I'm sure it did, but when Randy was out in 2004 for five games with an injury, Daunte played brilliantly during that stretch and showed that it wasn't because of Randy. I think Daunte's proved in the past that he can survive and thrive without Randy Moss. I think it was a lot of factors -- different coordinator, no Randy Moss, different players at different spots. It just wasn't coming together right away, not only for Daunte but for the whole offense.