NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Matt Birk was done a year ago, ready to retire.
Or so it seemed. Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly told a vast television audience before Baltimore's first playoff game that Birk would step into retirement after the Ravens completed their postseason run.
"That report didn't come from me," Birk said recently with a smirk.
Obviously not. The veteran center decided last offseason to return for at least one more year, and now he's poised to play in his first Super Bowl on Sunday.
And then, after his caps his 15th NFL season by banging helmets against the defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers, Birk will determine once again whether to take his scarred and weary body into retirement.
"I mean, I always say that I'm playing until I'm not," the 36-year-old Harvard grad said in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. "Every year is just exhausting, and after the way our season ended last year (a loss in the AFC title game), 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. 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."
A year ago, Birk and his family reached an agreement: He would give it go. So, after surgery to repair varicose veins in his leg, the six-time Pro Bowler showed up to training camp to mount one more charge to play in his first Super Bowl.
Birk started all 16 games and was part of an offense that scored a franchise-record 398 points.
"He's 100 percent pro," Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said. "He always takes care of his body. He's had the kind of career we are all chasing. He was healthier this year and he played really well. I know I was always straining to get a higher grade than he did each week. He played last year's championship game while he was hurting."
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis determined a couple of months ago that this would be his last season and announced Jan. 2 that he will retire after the playoffs. Lewis has received much attention and accolades these past few weeks as he reaches the end of his career.
"It's fitting. He's a legend. He's one of a kind," Birk said. "The way that he did it kind of gives the fans and everybody the chance to kind of go through the experience with him."
Birk, on the other hand, plays a position that receives very little fanfare, and he's not asking for any in what could be his final season. Besides, he insists he hasn't decided definitively on his future - in part because he wouldn't know what to do if he couldn't strap on the shoulder pads and buckle up the chin strap.
"People say, `What are you going to do when you're done?' and that's probably why I'm still playing," he said. "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 ... if this is as good as it gets for you, then you're in trouble. You need to realize all of this is going to be gone someday. It ends for everybody."
Birk will be 37 when the Ravens open training camp. There's a good chance some TV guy will insist during the Super Bowl that Birk won't be back, but the reality is that he's in no rush to decide.
"Whatever's going to happen is going to happen," Birk said. "(My wife is) a planner. She likes everything planned out. She asks me all the time, `Is this it?' I say, `I don't know.' It makes her mad. She wants to know. She's like everybody else."