It may seem strange for a player who hasn't played a down of football to be so outspoken, but to talk with Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is to appreciate what he brings to the team.
What he brings on the field is an incredible amount of maturity in making line calls, blocking and generally bringing everything a coach would want in a center – something the Vikings haven't been able to find since Birk elected to have season-ending surgery. What he brings in the locker room is a sound, reasonable voice.
Birk's comments of late about the so-called "Love Boat" scandal may rub some teammates the wrong way, but so what? It's probably those same teammates who embarrassed the entire organization and its fans by putting themselves in a position to be accused of lewd behavior on a charter boat in front of the charter company's staff. Birk jokingly says the Vikings put the "fun" in "dysfunctional." In reality, Birk likes to joke and have fun, but he also seems genuinely interested in putting the functional back into the team, trying to not to "dis" too many teammates along the way.
Personal responsibility and accountability may have been lacking of late. But eventually, Birk figures, it will return as owner Zygi Wilf gets the franchise in order.
"It's been a while, since I've been here, that we've had an owner concerned with running the team in a first-class manner," Birk said. "Given time, things will be sorted out and we'll be respectable again. But you're talking about the actions of a few people reflected on an entire team. Most guys weren't at that party, and from what I understand most guys at the party weren't doing anything illegal or wrong."
That is probably true. Unfortunately, there are plenty of good people in the locker room and upstairs offices in Winter Park that are negatively associated with the poor judgment executed by others. Birk is in the majority at Winter Park, embarrassed by the actions. He's also in the minority of people willing to stand up and offer bold commentary on it.
He's happy that the Vikings have hired a former FBI agent, Dag Sohlberg, to head up a newly formed security department at Winter Park. Sohlberg has worked with the Vikings as a former employee of the NFL's security department.
"Hopefully this incident wakes some guys up and scares them straight," Birk said. "Just bringing Dag on to emphasize potential problems or hazards out there, it's always a good thing. Keep making guys aware of the trouble that's out there.
"We know Dag from him being around here. I'm not sure what his role is – is he going to be spying on us? I don't know. Obviously, something has to done, with this incident and other stuff that's gone on, they need to do something."
Birk isn't the type to go out seeking the media while carrying a soapbox. Instead, the media seek him out as a source of reasonable commentary from the inside, and he seems genuinely interested in having the team return to a source of pride for the community and the good people inside Winter Park.
"I'm still proud to be here and proud to be a Minnesota Viking," he said.
The Vikings would be better for it if that pride starts coming a little bit easier, without the quarterly embarrassments that have been riding the team in 2005.
Birk's analysis of the team on the field is nearly as pointed as his commentary of actions off the field.
While the entire incident is a distraction for everyone in the halls of Winter Park, Birk says "as a professional, you do have to put that aside and perform."
While the 1-4 record wouldn't indicate a strong performance on the field, Birk says the team isn't far off.
"What people see and what they remember is when you're down three scores on the road in the fourth quarter and you're just trying to do anything to make something happen. … It's not like we need to scrap the whole thing and start over – it's not like that. Even though it looks bad, it's not like we're that far away."
Fans might not see it that way when the Vikings return to the Metrodome for their first home game since beating the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 25, their only win of the season. Will those fans boo?
"Yeah, probably. You couldn't blame, could you? If you paid $80 to sit in a seat and drink beer, you'd be booing too," Birk said.
Commentary: Birk Still a Standup Center
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