OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Derrick Mason stepped into retirement Monday as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, the team that provided the sure-handed wide receiver the biggest thrills and most significant friendships over his 15-year NFL career.
Mason, 38, played eight seasons with Tennessee before signing as a free agent with Baltimore in 2005. He never missed a game over six seasons with the Ravens and is the team career leader with 471 catches and 5,777 yards receiving. He also ranks second with 29 touchdown catches.
After being released last year, Mason split time with the New York Jets and Houston in 2011. But his spirit remained in Baltimore.
Sitting between Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, Mason bid farewell to football at the Ravens training complex.
"The decision wasn't hard to retire, and the decision where to retire was just as easy," Mason said. "My heart was here. It never left. My body left, but my heart stayed right in this room."
Mason thanked many of the people that helped him get through 230 NFL games, including Newsome, Harbaugh, and Ravens defensive stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He also paid homage to quarterback Steve McNair, who threw passes to Mason with Tennessee and Baltimore.
"I can't leave without thanking Steve," Mason said. "Him and I, more or less, grew up together in the game of football my first eight years and one here. Because of him, my numbers are what they are. Because he looked for me, he trusted me, he counted on me. I hope I never failed him. He will always be No. 1 with me."
Mason briefly retired in 2009, days after McNair was killed in a murder-suicide in Tennessee.
Mason ranks 11th on the NFL career list with 943 catches. He amassed 12,061 yards receiving and scored 66 touchdowns. He is also the only player in NFL history with at least 5,000 yards in returns and 10,000 yards receiving.
"My run is over. It was a good one," he said. "I'm happy."
Newsome has been in charge of player personnel for the Ravens since the team moved from Cleveland in 1996. Although he has signed hundreds of free agents, he can't remember anyone who made more of an impact on the organization than Mason.
"I don't know if there's any one player over the span of their career that did more for this organization than Derrick Mason," Newsome said.
Mason didn't possess world-class speed. He was only 5-foot-10, so he wasn't a tall target. But he was a quarterback's best friend, mainly because of attention to detail and his ability to pull down the football in the middle of a crowd.
When Baltimore drafted Joe Flacco and thrust him into the starter's role, Mason quickly became the rookie's favorite target.
"Derrick was a guy he could count on, a guy who was going to be where he was supposed to be," Harbaugh said. "I've never seen a better route-runner in football. A young quarterback could trust that he's going to be at the right depth, he's going to come out of his break quickly, he's going to be where you expect him to be, and he's going to catch the ball."
Mason wasn't ready to quit last July after the Ravens released him in a cost-cutting move. He latched on with the Jets, was cut, then finished up with Houston in a dreary season that was significant only in that it proved to Mason that it was time to retire.
"The year didn't go the way I wanted it to, but it went the way it should have went," he said. "I believe God has something else for me, and I believe there was a lesson I had to learn last year. I learned it. I was able to mentally prepare myself to retire."
Asked what it meant to be the franchise leader in catches and yards receiving, in addition to owning the top three receiving seasons by a Raven, Mason replied, "It means that the people who were throwing to me had enough confidence that I would go and catch the ball, and the people calling the plays trusted that I would be where I need to me."
Mason would like to be recognized not for his numbers, but for the way he played the game.
"It was fun," he said. "I want to be remembered as a guy who went out there and did his job the way he knew how - hard and fast.".