ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former Vikings great Matt Birk returned home this week and reminded students at his alma mater, Cretin-Derham Hall, to focus on the journey more than the destination.
Birk, a sixth-round draft pick by Minnesota in 1998 who became a six-time Pro Bowler and six-time Vikings Community Man of the Year, emphasized the importance of character during the pursuit of goals and after achieving them.
After 11 seasons with the Vikings, Birk played four more with the Ravens that culminated with him helping Baltimore win Super Bowl XLVII. Birk also was selected as the NFL's 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
"I think, in my message, was you think it's all about that end goal, the end game and that's what you work toward," Birk told Vikings.com and Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron. "When you get there, you get to the top of the mountain, 'Oh this is great, but this is it?'
"When you look back, you realize it really is the journey that you learn from," Birk continued. "Going through that is what makes you who you are, and whether you reach that ultimate goal, or the top of the mountain or whatever it is, that can't define you and be the sole focus. I don't know if I ever thought about what would happen if I ever did win a Super Bowl, but life goes on, life continues. That's just one moment, a special moment to share with my family and friends, but that's just one moment, so the journey continues."
The St. Paul native has been NFL Director of Football Development since July 2014 and spoke during an assembly in which Cretin-Derham Hall was named to the Super Bowl High School Honor Roll. The initiative is recognizing nearly 3,000 players and more than 2,000 high schools nationwide that have contributed to Super Bowl history. The NFL Foundation is providing character education curriculum and the opportunity for schools to apply for grants up to $5,000.
Birk presented a Wilson golden football to the school and was joined by Vikings Youth Football Manager E.J. Henderson and members of past Super Bowl teams: Zach Moore, former Vikings Tyrone Carter, Bob Lurtsema and Corbin Lacina.
Lacina and fellow Cretin-Derham Hall graduates Derek Engler and Marcus Freeman also were members of past Super Bowl teams.
"It's a blast to be back here at my alma mater," Birk said. "It was 20-something years ago, so this place has changed a lot, but some of the stuff is still the same. I think the important things are still the same. Cretin-Derham Hall is a special institution and obviously a really proud tradition. I feel fortunate to be part of it."
Birk said "so many people modeled character for me and showed me what a person of integrity looks like, how they go about their daily lives" when he attended Cretin-Derham Hall.
"I just think you can't have too many examples of that, especially in a young person's life," he added.
One of those models was Rich Kallok, a past NFL High School Coach of the Year. Kallok said participating in the assembly was a "great thrill."
"We did an awful lot together, the kids, the coaches, the teachers here to build the program to what it is today," Kallok said. "Matt's success and the kind of man he is teaches a lesson to these kids that's invaluable. I'm honored to be invited back."
Kallok said Birk's focus on the journey is evident in the relationships he's maintained.
"You have to really relish the relationships and friendships that you make," Kallok said. "It's obvious he's got great friends here that he played with in high school. It gives you treasures beyond the rings."