The only reason why Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.
The 36-year-old Birk was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous three years with the Baltimore Ravens, yet he never missed a start. During the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl center underwent surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.
Still, Birk knew the Ravens had a shot at a championship, and he wanted to be a part of it.
"At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you," Birk said. "I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think there was a legitimate chance that I could help the team."
Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance when the Ravens face the 49ers on Feb. 3.
"It means a lot for all the guys to have an opportunity to be a part of that," coach John Harbaugh said.
Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs five times without a conference title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was part of three more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl.
Now, Birk is poised to be part of the NFL's biggest game.
"It's great, obviously," he said. "That's the goal. That's your dream. That's why you play."