Amazing Possibilities!

  • Matthew Kelly

The Matt Birk Interview with Matthew Kelly


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Matthew Kelly:

Hi, I'm Matthew Kelly. Thanks for joining us. I'm here with super bowl champion, Matt Birk. Matt, it's great to have you with us.


Matt Birk:

Great to be here, Matthew.


Matthew Kelly:

I got some very serious questions to get started. Are you a coffee lover?


Matt Birk:

I live on coffee.


Matthew Kelly:

You live on coffee?


Matt Birk:

I have to.


Matthew Kelly:

How much coffee? I've got a thing going, I'm asking all my guests how much coffee they drink to see who is most enamored, or addicted to coffee. How much coffee do you drink a day?


Matt Birk:

I'd say only, three or four cups. But then, the natural question is how big are the cups? Right? It doesn't matter how many cups you have. My cups are generally the 24 ounce.


Matthew Kelly:

24 ounces-


Matt Birk:

Variety, yes.


Matthew Kelly:

Three, or four?


Matt Birk:

Yeah, three or four of those.


Matthew Kelly:

At what point of the day, do you stop drinking coffee?


Matt Birk:

Oh, eight, nine o'clock at night. I could drink coffee while laying in bed and fall asleep right then and there, it's-


Matthew Kelly:

Wow.


Matt Birk:

That doesn't speak to my character at all. I mean, I don't think it should be lauded for that.


Matthew Kelly:

I don't think so. It's a superpower, isn't it?


Matt Birk:

Well, just means I've drank a lot of coffee over the years and it pretty much has almost zero effect on me, but I'm addicted. I have eight kids. I mean, how do you parent without-


Matthew Kelly:

We're going to get to that. And I hear that.


Matt Birk:

I got all excuses-


Matthew Kelly:

I hear that big time and I'm sure coffee isn't the only thing that you need in order to father eight children. What about, favorite movie?


Matt Birk:

Favorite movie is Braveheart.


Matthew Kelly:

Braveheart, why is it your favorite movie?


Matt Birk:

I think, it's got that thing, right? That thing that speaks to something in us, men. The courage, the fight, the cause, the woman, I mean, it's got it all, right? And it's got bagpipes, bagpipes are sweet.


Matthew Kelly:

Kilts, I thought you're going to mention the kilts.


Matt Birk:

I'm not big into the kilts, but the bagpipes I can get behind.


Matthew Kelly:

All right. The great line in the movie, "All men die, but not all men really live."


Matt Birk:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Matthew Kelly:

You've had incredible life, lots of different chapters and seasons of that life. But, it started, you grew up in Minnesota. What was life like as a child growing up in Minnesota?


Matt Birk:

I was very fortunate to have just that idyllic childhood. I mean, grew up in a part of town where there was just a bunch of families, a bunch of kids, blue collar middle-class, good values, million kids in the neighborhood. We were just outside playing all the time, walked up the hill to school, walked up the hill, to church. I mean, it was just perfect. I look back and I think how lucky I was to grow up in a time and a place like that. And yeah, long for that for my kids, right? Life's different these days.


Matthew Kelly:

Life is different these days. I read somewhere that, as a kid, you didn't win stuff. You weren't particularly athletic. You didn't get picked first in sports.


Matt Birk:

It's all true.


Matthew Kelly:

How does someone go from that, to being on a winning super bowl team?


Matt Birk:

Yeah, so I loved sports. I wasn't really any good at them. I was the fat, slow kid, which I was all right with. I mean, it didn't really matter. I remember, I knew I wasn't that good at sports, but it didn't matter. It didn't diminish my love for them. I mean, you play in the neighborhood and there's guys that are really good and guys that aren't. I was one of the guys that wasn't, and that was okay. And I tried every single sport, and then I got to high school and I said, "Well, the only sport I haven't tried is football. So, I might as well try that." Right? And that's when I discovered two gifts that God gave me. He gave me the gift of getting in people's way and the gift of grabbing onto them.


Matt Birk:

And those are two really important gifts, if you're an offensive lineman, that's it, that's it in a nutshell. And I started playing football and I was like, "Wow. I mean, I'm actually good at this. And I'd just play in high school, I'd get a letter jacket and probably had a girlfriend that was a little better looking than she should have been, because I was on the football team. I liked it and never thought I'd play in college and ended up playing in college. Never thought I'd end up playing in the NFL and playing the NFL for 15 years." But, I mean, sports was such a huge part of my childhood. And I mean, I can remember for years, people would ask me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"


Matt Birk:

And I was conflicted. I didn't know if I wanted to be a professional baseball player, professional basketball, this was the big decisions that were weighing on me as a child. And I guess, it's a way of saying that, God answers prayers. Because, more than anything, I wanted to be a professional athlete, but I think that you need to be specific in your prayers to God. Because, yes, he made me a professional athlete, but he made me an offensive lineman. There's no kids on their knees, praying at night and saying, "God, please make me an offensive lineman." Right? Nobody wants to be an offensive lineman, but the world needs linemen too. And that's what I was.


Matthew Kelly:

So, you almost never left Minnesota as a kid.


Matt Birk:

Right.


Matthew Kelly:

What's it like stepping on the campus at Harvard?


Matt Birk:

Woo, man.


Matthew Kelly:

18 years old.


Matt Birk:

Yeah, 18 years old. So, I joke around, but it's true. I never won a trophy as a kid, never. Was never on a all-star team, or anything and had the success in high school with football. And so, it was average in many ways until high school. I started getting recognized and school would always come fairly easy to me. So, I was a good student, good athlete, going to Harvard to play football. My parents, I remember they woke my brothers up early, I had two younger brothers. Woke them up, made them drive me to the airport, all of us. And they just dropped me at the curb. I had two duffel bags, which was pretty much everything I had. And they said, "Good luck. We love you. We'll come visit you when we can." And jumped on a plane and went to Harvard. And I got there and it was just like, "Oh my gosh, the world is so much bigger than I knew." I mean, I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota never really went anywhere. I thought everybody was white, Irish and Catholic, that was my whole world.


Matt Birk:

But, then just got exposed to people from all over the world and all these different ideas. But, the thing that happened to me in college early on, was where I'd been coasting for a few years. It just seemed like I just had the Midas touch. I was having all this success and everybody was telling me how great I was doing, how proud they were. And I was believing the hype. "Yeah, I'm pretty good. I'm working hard." And I got to Harvard and all just came crashing down. I mean, I'm on the football field, I'm an 18 year old boy, I'm playing against 22 year old men. That's not going well. And then, in school, you're sitting here in class with some of the best and the brightest in the world. And you're competing for grades against them and have these unbelievable world famous professors. Football wasn't going well, school wasn't going well. And it was probably the first I'm going to say real crisis I had in my life where it was like, "Oh my gosh, I don't know if I can do this."


Matthew Kelly:

So, you're into your first semester. You wanted to leave. Your dad wrote you a letter. What did the letter say?


Matt Birk:

Well, so here's how it went. I was like, "Yeah, this isn't going well." I was way beyond my comfort zone and I was scared. And so, when I went home for Christmas break, I had two duffel bags with me. That was everything I had. And my plan was I wasn't going to go back. So, waiting for the right time to spring this on my parents and I bring it up and I say, "I don't think I'm going to go back." And my dad, he's a pretty old school guy. He listened, he said, "No, you're going back." And that was it, I went back. Didn't want to, but that was it. Your dad told you, I don't know, he just did it.


Matt Birk:

So, I'd been back for a few weeks and I get a letter in my mailbox, which back then we wrote letters. We didn't have email. And it was a letter from my dad. And he told me that, when he was 18 years old, he got a trip to Vietnam. He didn't want to go. He was told to go twice-


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

Serve two tours in the Vietnam war. And he said, "You're at a great school. You get to play football, nobody's shooting at you. Grow up." Essentially, it was grow up. And I remember, obviously, it was unbelievable perspective. And I mean, at 18 years old and you're selfish. And I'd gotten to a point in my life where it was just, everything was about me. And so, I didn't have that perspective and the way that he told it to me, it's those times when a father needs to tell his son something like, "Hey, this is important." Changed my life, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I don't know if it got any easier. School was still pretty hard, football got better. I got bigger and stronger. School, was still a struggle. But, that was an important day in my life.


Matthew Kelly:

Powerful. Is there another lesson that your father taught you that it's important for you to teach your children?


Matt Birk:

Hmm. My dad, he's just a doer. He's one of those, guess you could say, he evangelizes with his actions. It's his personal example. Yeah, we didn't have a lot growing up, but he was always volunteering to, whatever it was. Run the Christmas tree lot, be the commissioner of the little league, make meals at the soup kitchen, whatever it was, he just went and did it. Didn't try to make a spectacle out of it, just went and did it. Never said anything, just work, my mom and my dad. I feel, one of the great blessings of my life, is that I was born to two parents who have great work ethic. They just went to work every day. And that's a blessing. If you have that example where you're expected, it's just what we do. We show up and we work and we show up and we serve, that's powerful. That's big part of what shaped who I am today.


Matthew Kelly:

Is it hard to pass that on to your kids?


Matt Birk:

I think it's getting harder, kids these days. I mean, I had a full-time job when I was 11. Worked every day at the golf course for the Summer, every single day. And this is what we did, right? These days it's different, life is different, it's digital, it's a lot more comfortable, but it's just the culture, right? The motivation, the value that we just put on work as a society, as a whole. The dignity that we see in work, I don't think it's what it used to be. And so, it is hard to do. I was very fortunate to be able to play football for 15 years. I don't need to work, but I remember when I retired, it was like, "Well, what am I going to do? Am I going to go play golf every day and go catch fish?" I remember I made a conscious decision, "My kids need to see me working, doing something, getting up every single day and doing work, because that's important." Because, the example of my parents, the effect that it had on me. I think, that's the best way to try to pass something on.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. I'm struck by something you just said. You said, "I don't need to work." And financially, that's true, right? And I think our society looks at work that way.


Matt Birk:

Mm-hmm.


Matthew Kelly:

We say, "We need to work financially, or we don't need to work financially." But, then what you've expanded on, is the reality that you do actually need to work.


Matt Birk:

Yes.


Matthew Kelly:

And that we do have this need to exert ourselves in that way and to end up playing golf every day, isn't necessarily good for the soul. At dinner last night, you made a comment that really struck me also. You said, "I've always had the gift of faith." It is a gift. When did you become aware of that? Or, how did you experience that as a child?


Matt Birk:

Hmm. I just remember as a child, just always feeling like God was right beside me. Just, always on my shoulder. Like I said, I was the fat, slow, whatever, below average. I was never sad, I never had any angst, or stress. I always just felt like everything was just always going to work out. I've always had this feeling, that everything's always going to work out. And I can vividly remember times in my life where, I'm on my bike, biking to school and God's with me, I'm talking to God like a friend. I mean, those are just early memories I have. I guess I didn't realize that until probably a few years ago, that I was blessed with the gift of faith. Again, that says nothing about my character. It's just, something I was blessed with.


Matthew Kelly:

How did that manifest during your football career?


Matt Birk:

Wow. So, there's the other side of the story, right? So, first of all, I think prosperity derails more people than adversity does.


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

And so, I had enjoyed a lot of prosperity, high school, college. And then, I get drafted by my hometown team. The team that I grew up, we used to run home from church to get in front of the TV and watch the Vikings game on Sundays. And here I'm playing for the Vikings and everybody's slapping me on the back saying, "God, you're doing great. We're so proud of you. You're doing awesome." And I'm naive enough, I'm believing them. I'm like, "Yes, I am doing awesome." And I can remember I stopped going to church pretty much. I left high school and I remember the first Sunday, go out to school, we're practicing football.


Matt Birk:

We wake up Sunday morning, we've got the day off. There's seven other guys in the dorm room with me. And I'm waiting for somebody to say, "Hey, let's go to church." And nobody said, "Let's go to church." And so, I didn't go. And it was the first Sunday I ever missed.


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

You feel pretty guilty about that. It was hard. Second Sunday rolls around, don't go to church. Becomes a lot easier the second time and the third time. Habits, the habits that you talk about. So, I've justified not going to mass like, "Hey God, I'm really busy, doing all these great things." Everybody's telling me how great I'm doing, right? Of course, you play in the NFL. "Well, our games are on Sunday. How am I supposed to make it? How do you expect me to go to mass, when I got to go play the Bears?" And that's an excused absence, right?


Matthew Kelly:

Just because it's the Bears?


Matt Birk:

Well, any NFL franchise. Most of them, most of them. So, I'd reached this point where I was very focused on worldly success, had all the fame and money and, there's a hamburger named after me in St. Paul, that's how famous I was.


Matthew Kelly:

Hamburger.


Matt Birk:

If you're a lineman and you have a hamburger named after you, that's pretty big time.


Matthew Kelly:

That is big time. That's usually a quarterback thing.


Matt Birk:

Yeah, it's still there. You come to Minnesota, we'll get a Matt Birk burger. I'd just signed to the biggest contract in the history of the NFL for a center. I mean, beyond my wildest dreams. But, I knew on the inside, there was a huge hole. I knew that I was actually dying.


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

All these things were supposed to bring me happiness, this was everything I ever wanted. Why am I not? Why don't I have that joy that I thought I would have? So, I meet girl, become rather smitten with her. And she becomes my wife. And she was Catholic too, but fallen away a little bit. But, she was like, "Hey, we got to go to church." I was like, "Yeah." I went back to church and this was really the first time as an adult. I wasn't going, because my parents told me to go, or "Hey, it's Christmas, meet us at mass." I went and I was like, "Wow, yeah. Maybe, there's something here."


Matt Birk:

And I guess the point I'm trying to make is, I was raised catholic, given the gift of the faith as a child. But, at some point, all of us cradle Catholics, we have to claim the faith as our own. We have to say, "Yes, I am a Catholic." And so, it's through my marriage that I came back to the faith and really became intentional about being a Catholic, living out my identity as a child of God and taking my faith seriously.


Matthew Kelly:

You mentioned your wife, Adrianna. How much ice tea did you drink, in an effort to win your wife's affection?


Matt Birk:

Okay. So, I was a lineman. I was about 315 pounds, single, never cooking for myself, right? So, you got to find your places where you can go and get those high calorie meals. So, there is a diner, it was a greasy spoon diner, famous, been there forever, good food, good rib-sticking food, great breakfast, meatloaf, that stuff. So, I went in there and there was this waitress who I liked particularly, and everything at this place is big. All the portions are big and even the drinks, they're 32 ounce classes. So, I would always sit in this girl's section and I'd get an ice tea, well it was 32 ounces ice tea. Well, I wanted her to come back and refill my drink, so I could continue hitting on her. And so, I would suck down, three or four ice teas at a breakfast. So, Adriana would come back and fill up my glass and I could make small talk. So, it was some work, I walked out of there with a few bellyaches, but it was well worth it, because she did become my wife, so...


Matthew Kelly:

Talking about the gift of faith, talking about falling away from the church, coming back to the church. How is God manifesting in your life different today than at any other time in your life?


Matt Birk:

Well, that's a great question. I feel like right now I have eight children, couple business opportunities, the school that I'm involved in, a lot of stuff going on. It's a lot. And I think God's got me in that place right now where I know that I have no choice, but to submit to his will. And I remember that place, I know I can't do this. There are times where I still say, "Oh, I'm on top of it. I got this." And then, it's just disaster. I mean, I'm really in that place where, I say almost because I'm still human, but it's almost total dependency on God, that we can just keep this whole thing together. I mean, with kids, there's all this stuff with kids. Marriage, it's a lot. And I can't even begin to try to really wrap my head all around it, or even feel like I have any semblance of control.


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

And so, it's almost like, "Okay, well, show up. Here I am, God. Help me figure this out, give me the wisdom and the endurance to do these things according to your will." And I think it's a pretty good place to be. I'm not trying to make it sound like, "Everything's easy and great, it's not." Which is I think, the point. But, I'm at that point where I almost have no choice, but to submit to the will of God.


Matthew Kelly:

It's sounds like there's been this journey from the arrogance of youth, "I got it all going on. Everyone's telling me I'm the man." To, this position of humility and dependence on God. We see a lot of people trying to maintain the arrogance-


Matt Birk:

Hmm.


Matthew Kelly:

Even through the things you're describing and I think the collateral damage that comes with that, you've made this journey yourself, but you've seen a lot of other people make the journey.


Matt Birk:

Oh yeah.


Matthew Kelly:

Some people make good choices, some people make bad choices. What are some of the things that you look at people and think, "Hmm, making a bad choice, how is my life different to them? Why was I able to make better choice?" What is the difference between the people that handle it well and the people that don't?


Matt Birk:

Yeah. I think, the biggest thing, is you're only as good as the people you're around. Yeah. I mean, I know from playing football that you could be the greatest player in the world. If you don't have great teammates, other guys that are talented and committed, you're not going to do anything. Football's the ultimate team game. I think life, it's a team sport. And there was a time where I thought, "Yeah, look at these friends that I've selected." Right?


Matthew Kelly:

Right.


Matt Birk:

I know that's not me. God put amazing people in my life at the right time. My wife, a handful of older men, at a time when I needed, when I was coming back to the faith and still very young and immature in my journey. I needed mentors. I needed guys that would take time to sit down and answer my questions and talk to me. But, it's my teammates in life who have kept me on a good path. They inspire me, they guide me, they hold me accountable. That's what we all need.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.


Matt Birk:

Yeah, that's what we all need. And yeah, very, very blessed.


Matthew Kelly:

So, you grew up Catholic, you take a break-


Matt Birk:

Take a break.


Matthew Kelly:

Like many, many, many people do-


Matt Birk:

Yeah.


Matthew Kelly:

You come back. You have a favorite memory as a Catholic?


Matt Birk:

Hmm, favorite memory as a Catholic? I can remember, this one, is somewhat recent. So, we're all busy, we're all so busy. And few years ago, we're at mass and I'm in the way back, because I've got a, I don't know, one or two year old, who's not behaving, right? And pastor gets up, to do the homily. He talks about adoration. Well, we have an adoration chapel at our church and it's been here for 26 years, perpetual adoration. And there's signups today after mass and right away, I'm thinking, "Well, come on. I got a lot going on. I don't have time yet." And this pastor says, "If you don't have one hour a week to spend with Jesus, maybe you need to think about your priorities." And I said, "Well, okay. I guess that's one of those where I feel like he's speaking directly to me."


Matt Birk:

So, I go to the table and I'm a tough guy. I'm a tough guy, right? I want to make it hurt a little bit. So, I sign up for 4:00 AM Monday morning, right? I'm thinking, "Yeah, this is good. I'm not only going to do the... I'm going to take 4:00 AM." And this little woman, Teresa Boland is her name. She runs the adoration, she runs the program, she's been doing it forever, she's five feet tall. She just has the joy of Jesus in her. I mean, she's one of these people. And I sign up and I'm thinking, 4:00 AM Monday, I'm I'm getting like extra credit for this, right? I show up, I go to sign in the book, Teresa Boland was there. She had been there since 2:00 AM-


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

From 2:00 to 4:00. So, she fills in all the hours that nobody else takes. And so, she's there. And I was probably telling everybody, "Yeah, I got adoration at 4:00 AM tomorrow." Look at me, look at me, right? All proud. I show off and every Monday I would show up at 4:00 AM and Teresa's there from 2:00 to 4:00.


Matthew Kelly:

Hmm.


Matt Birk:

And I thought, maybe I need to check my ego a little bit. But, I mean, first of all, I need humility. I need those moments. I need those things, because I can get...


Matt Birk:

I need those moments. I need those things, because I can get out of control really fast. But I remember that was the moment. That was a Catholic moment, like when my dad wrote me that letter. And it was like I think there was a permanent effect there. Like, "Okay. I'm going to be a little bit different forever going forward."


Matthew Kelly:

So you stopped playing football in high school. You go to Harvard and play football. When did you know you would play professional football?


Matt Birk:

About halfway through my senior season, an NFL scout came by to watch my film. And I was like, "Really?" So I just asked him point blank. I said, "You really think I could play in the NFL?" "I think you got a chance." It was at that point, again, at this point in my life, I'm selfish. I'm about... Harvard, I'm about achievement. I'm about money and success. So this guy says I can go play in the NFL. So that just really became my singular focus. I maybe went to class a little bit less and was just all about... And I just said, "I'm just going to pursue this as far as I can. And when it's over, it's over. And then I'll go start by my real life." But it wasn't until my senior year of college.


Matthew Kelly:

So draft day comes around. You wake up on draft day. What does that feel like?


Matt Birk:

Well, I was nervous because I wasn't sure if I was going to get drafted or not. And I'd had a private workout with the Vikings and they had told me, "We're not going to draft the lineman and you're probably going to get drafted." So it was good to hear like, "Wow. I'm going to get drafted. That's great." I just wanted an opportunity, but not with the Vikings. So the Vikings weren't on my radar at all. And so then when the phone rang and it was... They call you. Scouts call you, "Hey, we're from this team. We're looking at to take you at the next pick." And okay, but the phone rang and it was Denny Green, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. The head coach isn't calling you to say, "We might take you." He's calling to say, "We just took you." And I remember he said, "Do you want to play in Minnesota?" I said, "Of course, I do." And then my name came up on the screen, and I had a bunch of friends. We're all in the dorm room. It was a great moment.


Matthew Kelly:

So you're in the dorm room. That's what you were?


Matt Birk:

Yeah, yeah. Just sitting in the dorm room.


Matthew Kelly:

So you get picked in the sixth round. What did that feel like? What are you thinking in that moment?


Matt Birk:

It's surreal. I'm going to make my way back home and it was like things were coming together. Again, I was about success. That's what I was about. So I was like, "This is great. I'm going to go play for the Minnesota Vikings. I'll be the hometown hero. I'll make lot of money. I'm going to be famous." It was all just fallen into place. Again, that's where I was at at that point in my life.


Matthew Kelly:

But you still had to finish out the semester.


Matt Birk:

Finished the semester, graduated, which was important. And then went to training camp, and it was very similar to the experience I had when I first got to Harvard. Because I'd been in this place whereby the end of high school and by the end of college, it's like, "I'm one of the best." And then you start over, and you're on the bottom again. And I had a lot of those same feelings. "I don't know if I can do this," right? I'd built it up in my mind, like, "I'm just going to make this happen." And then you get there and you're like... You're trying to block guys like John Randall. It's not going well. And I said, "Okay." I said, "I'm probably not going to make it." But I said, "But I'm going to just make sure that I show up. I do every single thing they asked me to do. And then when they cut me at the end of training camp, I can say I gave it my best and move on."


Matt Birk:

So I show up the first day and it goes horribly, maybe the worst practice ever in the history of the NFL. It might be. I'm talking like I'm not blocking anybody. I couldn't block a dummy, a tackling dummy. And after practice, the coach comes up to me. He's like, "I think you need to learn how to play center." I'd never played center before. And I said, "Okay. Well, so what do we do?" "Well, the first thing you got to do is you got to learn how to snap a football." "Okay. That makes sense." So he goes, "Be out here five minutes early before practice, and the quarterbacks will meet you out here. You practice snapping a football." "Okay, great."


Matt Birk:

So I'm out there waiting, waiting. Here come the quarterbacks. I'm pumped up. I'm trying to pump myself up. Quarterbacks, come out. They're like... And for five minutes we just practiced snapping the football. Bend over, put your hand on the ball. Quarterback puts his hands underneath you. It takes a little getting used to. And we just practiced snapping the football. And I was like, "Okay." And that day and every single day, I went out five minutes early and practiced snapping a football to the quarterbacks. Because the snap, it's that important, you know? Like you've probably never noticed the snap, unless it's on the ground or over his head, right? And then you blame the center like everybody else does. You never blame the quarterback, but you never watch a game and say, "Oh, my gosh. How does the center snap the ball? It's perfect. How does he do that?"


Matt Birk:

It's the first number one thing of any play, like, "Get a good snap." Otherwise, you got no chance. And then we do that. And then every day as a line of you go down and get these things called shoots. You'd come out and they teach you how to stay low. They teach you leverage, which is important in line play. And then you do these same five drills every single day, no matter what. No matter if you're a rookie or you're a 15-year vet. No matter if you're the last guy on the roster or All-Pro, you do the fundamentals over and over and over, because they're that important. Nobody's good enough to just get by on talent to just say, "I got this. I'm going to go make it happen."


Matt Birk:

And so football eyes everything. And that's, as I came back to the Catholic faith, that's what I came to really appreciate about the Catholic faith was... I'm a mess. We're all broken, good times, bad times, whatever, but there's all these fundamentals at our disposal. Then all we got to do is just show up and do them, right? Like go to mass, go to confession, adoration, the rosary. We've even got the saints. We've got the hall of fame of Cath. There's all these things. It doesn't... In football, I was a low talent guy. So I was like, "I'm just going to show up and just do whatever they tell me to do." And after a while, I got better and better and became all right at it.


Matt Birk:

It's like the same thing with Catholicism. All you got to do is just show up and just keep doing the fundamentals over and over and over. That's what football is. You always hear about, "Who's going to win the game?" Well, whatever team's more fundamentally sound is going to win. It's a game of fundamentals, blocking, tackling, running, catching. Faith and life, it's the same thing. Just keep doing it over and over and over. And it's counter-cultural, because we love the highlights, right? We're about highlights. We don't give out medals or trophies for just for fortitude and perseverance, just showing up. But that's what I think that's what makes a great life. It makes a great football player, the commitment to something and just continue to show up.


Matt Birk:

I remember I was having a... I was late in my career. I don't know, it was towards the end. And I remember this younger guy, one of my teammates, comes up to me. And football is really, it's a spiritual thing. Wherever you are in your faith, football, it's hard. It hurts. You got to sacrifice. You've high highs, low lows. There's a lot going on. You have some great moments with your teammates. There was this guy he'd been in like five or six years. He comes over to me one day, middle of practice where we're sitting some out. He said, "Man." He goes, "I got to ask you something. How have you lasted so long in the NFL?" I think he was expecting me to give him like some training tip, like, "Oh. You got to stand on your head for two minutes a night," or something like that.


Matt Birk:

And I said, "Ben," I said, "Early on in my career, it was about, can I do this?" Yeah, it was a challenge of can I do this? I said, "Now I'm at the point where it's, how much can I take?" In a way it's like you show up and you just take the... You put your body through the ringer. You go on this wild ride every year of a season. You put yourself through it. And the older you get, the harder it gets, and it became as almost like a challenge. Not can I do it? But how much can it take? Can I keep committing to this and doing it more? And that became my thing. And as I get a little bit older, I'm not old, but as I get a little bit older, that's a little bit how I look at life versus like, what can I go do? Or what can I go buy or any of that? But it's like, part of life is it's sacrifice, suffering. Like how much can I take?


Matthew Kelly:

Playing offensive lineman and how much can you take? And you're taking a lot, and it's not the most popular position on the planet. And lots of other players getting more attention. And it is very much a supportive role in a world where everyone wants to be center stage. What did you learn about playing a supporting role? And how does that change the way you see other people playing supporting roles in everyday life?


Matt Birk:

Like I said, I was never the star of any team. So being an... That's just like who I am. I loved offensive line because it was hard. There's no glory. And the only guys that really know how hard it is are the guys that you're playing next to. And I know, like I said, no kid's kneeling down at night saying their prayers saying, "Please, God. Make me an offensive lineman." And I wouldn't have said that either, but it was the best. It was the best. First of all, you get to eat whatever you want. Second, you're with a bunch of other guys who we know we're never going to be modeling underwear. We know who... There's low ego. We're just a bunch of guys bringing our lunch pails to work. So it's the best.


Matt Birk:

But I do think that... I don't know. I do think I do go out of my way sometimes to find those people who are in support, who most people might be invisible in society. And I don't know, just let them know that I appreciate them or just go out of my way to say Hi to them. But I also know, even though I was a professional athlete and accomplished and this and that, I knew how much it meant when the quarterback or the running back or the wide receiver would come over and say, "Good job, guys," and give you a little... Let's you know, that he appreciated what we were doing. We were called the Big Uglies, right? Because that's who we were.


Matt Birk:

And it's like, these guys... And we're talking world-class athletes, right? We're talking guys who are... They're the fastest guys in... They're the best in the world. They're the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, like elite athletes. Millions of people are buying their jerseys. These guys are the thing. Even though they're your teammates, you still look up to guys like that. And when they would come over and let you know that they appreciate that, that went a long ways. That was big, and it meant everything. It really meant just that small thing meant everything. That's really a difference between a... I don't know. A wide receiver's not going to help me do my job any better. He's not going to give me tips or techniques to help me. Now he could make me look a little better than I am by making some plays once in a while. But that's the difference. For him to be a good teammate or just an okay teammate is just come over once in a while and just give me a little love. That was big.


Matthew Kelly:

Did that realization change the way you affirm your wife, you affirm your children, you affirm other people in your life?


Matt Birk:

No, I don't do that enough. Yeah. I don't know why. I withhold too many compliments. Well, I think it, so therefore my wife, she knows. She knows I think she's beautiful. She knows I appreciate everything she does. I think I believe I'm some telepathic communicator, which I am not. No, I need to do that more. And that's probably, that's just... We're all some degree of product of our environments, right?


Matthew Kelly:

Sure.


Matt Birk:

You play football? What do football coaches do? They yell and they scream at you and they critique you. And the higher you get in sports, the more coaching you receive, the harder it gets to improve. You got to work harder and get coached harder to just make smaller and smaller improvements. And so I guess I'm used to... You can tell me 99 things I'm doing wrong. If one out of 100, you tell me, "Good job," I'm okay with that. So I just assume that my wife and my kids are the same way. Well, they're not. That's what I. I had all brothers growing up. You got a lot of brothers.


Matthew Kelly:

I had all brothers as well.


Matt Birk:

So I mean toilet seats always up, number one.


Matthew Kelly:

If it's on.


Matt Birk:

Yeah, just the whole talking, affection. Yeah, how do I show affection to my brother? Well, I would sock him in the shoulder or put him in a headlock. So my first three children are girls. God gave me three girls to start. And I remember early on my wife's like, "You can't talk to them like that. You have to be this way." And it was very much like I really had to humble myself and say, "Okay. I guess we are going to have a tea party today. Or you can come here and lay with daddy and I'll stroke your hair," or whatever it is, right? That was an incredible experience. I still got a ways to go.


Matthew Kelly:

So as a professional athlete, you're used to being coached. When your wife comes to you and coaches you, what's that dynamic? How does that feel? You resistant to that, how you react to that?


Matt Birk:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Familiarity breeds contempt, right? So unfortunately, yeah. I would say there are a lot of times where I'm the least courteous to my wife or the least patient with my kids. How does that make any sense? Yeah. That's like totally backwards. That's a constant struggle. But I know this about marriage specifically. Like marriage, it's like the great adventure. I heard a long time ago, "Perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other." And I can say I know that's my wife and I. We made that decision. We're not giving up on each other.


Matt Birk:

And I think about football. Football, it's all about commitment. Football is just all about how committed are you to the process? What are you willing to do? How much sacrifice? How much pain are you willing to endure for the good of the team? If you're really all in and you got to be all in. If you're not all in, then you're all out. If guys say, "Oh, yeah. I'm committed." Well, the first time you lose a couple games or something, guys will start baling. You can't only be all in when you're winning. But when you know someone's all in, when your teammates are with you like that, you can do anything.


Matt Birk:

Yeah, there's going to be bad times. There's going to be three game losing streaks and all that stuff. And fans are going to boo you, but you know you're going to get through it. You just know you're going get through it. Because you have to, right? We're in this together. And that's how I look at marriage. It's like, you just don't ever flinch on the commitment that you have. I can say I don't... When my wife and I got married, I don't think we were at a place. I don't think it was a sacramental marriage. I think by the grace of God that we've grown into that, where God is at the center of our marriage now. But it takes a long time to get there. It takes a lot of work and we still got a long ways to go, but I know we're not going to give up. So if we know we're not going to give up, then we're going to make it.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. We were talking earlier about the snap and how most people don't notice it, unless it ends up on the ground or over the quarterback's head. And you talk then about blame. Okay. There's all these crazy radio shows, talk shows, Monday talking about the game on Sunday. As a player, how much does that stuff affect you?


Matt Birk:

Early on in my career, it affected me a lot, because my identity was tied up in being a football player. It was really important to me. You mentioned earlier about people trying to beat, try to project outwardly this image, right? Like, "Hey, I'm successful. I'm married. I got two kids. I drive this car. I live in this neighborhood." As an NFL player, you're the same thing. I just got to a place where that was just so exhausting. It's just exhausting to try to be whatever. As I came back to the faith, football became less of who I really was. And you know what? I think I got a place of maturity where it's like, you understand people. Hey, it's great people love football.


Matt Birk:

I think people probably love it a little too much. It's a little too important. I'd say it's one of the most important unimportant things. It's really not that important. But in our country it really has become too important. It's like a civic religion. I'm saying these people, they're just... It's their escape. I know it's just what they do. And if it ever really got to me in the moments where it does sometimes, you just say, "Look, they're just talking. Anybody can talk." Yeah. It's like the Teddy Roosevelt. It's the man. It's not the critic who points out how the doer of deeds could have done them better. Anybody can talk and criticize. And at least at the end of the day, I was... First of all, at least you're out there. You're laying it on the line. You get the opportunity to go do something and lay it on the line.


Matt Birk:

And it's real clear whether you're successful or not every week. It's binary, success or failure. That's pretty cool. That was pretty cool. But yeah, I guess you learn to just roll with it.


Matthew Kelly:

Two of the themes that are emerging in our conversation, I think talent and discipline. Obviously, you need talent to compete at that level, but listening to you, it seems like you value discipline a lot more than talent. Talk to us a little bit about that.


Matt Birk:

Yeah. Like I said, I always consider myself a low talent guy in a lot of ways. So I was going to make up for with discipline. I guess here's the thing I always think about. If I fail... We never want to think about failure, but I say, "Okay. What if I fail?", which is a distinct possibility. And I failed. One of the great... but I failed a bunch in my life early on as a kid. I didn't have parents telling me that I was super special. I knew I was special. I knew God made me. I knew what he did for me. I knew he loved me. But it wasn't like, "Oh. You're the most special." I wasn't raised like that. I didn't get trophies. My parents didn't snow plow the path for me. So I felt... So failure, I'm not scared of failure. I don't like it, but I'm not scared of it.


Matt Birk:

So obviously, [inaudible 00:50:21]. But if I fail... Let's go worst case scenario. If I fail, I want to make sure I don't look back and say, "Well, I failed because I wasn't disciplined enough, because I didn't put the effort in." You talk about I bring up my dad. This time my dad sits me down and says, "Son, we're going to have a man-to-man talk." These are just things you pick up. I pick up over the years, a couple of things. But his thing is just best effort always, best effort always. That's it. That's all you need to do. So discipline, you're going to have pain in your life. It's either going to be the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The pain of regret, there's some regrets I have.


Matt Birk:

I regret. I look back in college. I wish I'd studied harder in college. I looked like, "Well, I could've tried harder." Did I always put my best effort forward? No. With football did I always? Oh, yeah, because I liked football better than school. But regret's a bad feeling. It's a bad, bad feeling. So yeah, discipline. For me, it's all about... I'm always looking at ways like, how do I refine whatever process I'm doing? How do I bring more and more discipline? I always prided myself as a football player, like I'm going to be the most disciplined. I'm going to be the first one there in the mornings. I'm going to watch the most film. I'm going to do an extra workout every week. I'm going to have the best diet, all those things. It was just that was the game to me as a football player.


Matt Birk:

And for me for life, it's like, well, let me see you talk about. You want to change your life, change your habits, all about habits. So I know that I need a... I do really well with structure and discipline. If I don't have that, if I'm just making it up as I go along, I get loose real quick and then I'll have serious, serious pain of regret. But that's really counter-cultural, right?


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.


Matt Birk:

Freedom, do whatever you want, this and that. Yeah, you can. But then that means the pain is going to come later, pain or regret.


Matthew Kelly:

So listening to you speak today, I've watched a bunch of your speeches, read some of the things you've written. There's one phrase that you use more than any other phrase. I don't know if you're aware of it. The phrase is, "Show up." You use it over and over and over again. You talked about it in the context of, "Okay. Got to keep showing up for football. Got to keep showing up for practice. Showing up five minutes early." When you're doing something like playing professional football, you have an understanding of how important that is. And you get a lot of real time data.


Matthew Kelly:

A lot of people don't know where they stand. Am I doing a good job? Am I not doing a good job? Depending on if their boss says, "Hey, you're doing a great job," or, "I'm really happy with the work you're doing," they might have to wait until their annual review to hear that my boss thinks I'm doing a great job or my boss doesn't think I'm doing a great job. But as a professional athlete, you're constantly getting feedback. At any point in the game, all you have to do is look up at the score board and you get instant feedback. You come off the field. You get your stat sheet. For the game, for the season, for your career, all of this feedback is available. You don't get that as a dad. You don't get that as a husband. You don't get that in the faith. How does that change how easy or difficult it is to keep showing up in those things?


Matt Birk:

Yeah. It's hard. People say, "What do you miss about football?" I say, "I miss that." It's just super direct. There's no gray area on how you're doing, where you stand, what we're trying to do. Yeah. It's just as direct, maybe even maybe a little too direct sometimes, but real life isn't like that. It is harder. It is harder. There's more gray area. Sometimes you don't know, but I do know that you just have to keep showing up. At the end of the day, you just want to keep moving up and to the right. So I keep getting a little bit better. And so the only way to do that is just keep showing up. Keep committed to the process, whatever the process is, whatever you think the process is for a great marriage or being a great father or great at your job. You keep looking at that and evaluating that, but it's the commitment to the process. And I think it's finding the meaning that the more immersed you become in the process, the less you worry about the results.


Matt Birk:

And to me, that's really when, as a player, like when my performance went from here to here, I wasn't worried about, am I going to be an all-star this year? Am I getting a new ... It was just more like, "How good can I snap that football today?" As goofy as that sounds, but immersing in the process and finding the purpose and passion in that, it's very freeing, because we love to worry. I love to worry about 10 years down the road. I can get, says, "I can get wrapped around the axle real quick and get all...."


Matt Birk:

If you let go of the results, and you're just immersed in that process, you'll have great results, right? But you also take away a lot of the stress and anxiety that we create for ourselves as human beings. The only thing I know to get better is just to keep showing up and working the process.


Matthew Kelly:

They talk about worry. One of the things we struggle with as human beings is uncertainty. And I think God certainly leads a lot of people to make bad decisions, because they rush towards what they consider a certain outcome, rather than sitting with the uncertainty and waiting for their pitch, so to speak. 2009 you become a free agent, there's this period of uncertainty. What's going to happen? Are you excited about being a free agent? Are you afraid of being a free agent? What are the healthy thoughts and the unhealthy thoughts that go through your mind as a free agent?


Matt Birk:

I was excited, because I'd never been a free agent before. I played 11 years, I never hit free agency. So I thought, well, this is good. I'm going to get maybe a little pay raise, and thought I'd stay with the Vikings, because that's what I knew. And so free agency started and the phone's not ringing. And I remember I'm calling my agent all of a sudden, I'm thinking, oh, maybe we'll go to a new... It's all the good stuff. Oh, big contract, maybe a Florida team, get out of winter, and get out of Minnesota. And now the phone's not ringing. So now all of a sudden it's like, wait, this isn't how this is supposed to go. And then a couple of days, and then it's Baltimore, right?


Matt Birk:

Like Baltimore? Okay. And then Baltimore backs away. So, John Harbaugh is the head coach at Baltimore Ravens. I called John Harbaugh. I said, hey. I mean, players don't do this, but if I was desperate or this was just kind of a real moment. I said, hey, you guys called and said you're interested and now you say you're not. What changed? He says, "Well, I think maybe you're just going to use us as leverage to drive the price up on the Vikings. We think you want to stay with the Vikings. You've been there your whole career, you're a hometown guy." I said, let me tell you something. I don't know John Harbaugh. I said, if I come in for a visit, I'm seriously considering your team if you want me. He says, "That's what I wanted to hear."


Matt Birk:

So it's like 5:30 at night. He says, "In the morning, I'll have our people reach out to you and set up travel arrangements." And I said, no. I said, I'm going to go online right now, I'll book the tickets. I'll be on the first flight out in the morning and I'll see you. And I did. And I don't know. I mean, I can't say why, other than maybe it was, I might've not, because I was like a blow to my ego kind of. So I fly out there and then I sit down with this guy, John Harbaugh, and I really didn't want to leave the Vikings. Things were good. And I sit across from this guy and he's on fire. I mean, he's talking about how he approaches the team, how he runs his team, his philosophy, he says, it's real simple.


Matt Birk:

He said, "We're just going to work as hard as we can work and get as good as we're going to get." And that was the first time in the NFL I'd ever heard a coach talk like that and not talk about winning. Most pregame speeches, it's like, we're going to go out there and we're going to win. Right? Well, of course, we're going to try to win. He wasn't talking about the result. He was talking about the process and he was talking about this thing. He said, "Play like a Raven." Not everybody can be a Raven. He made it like this special thing. You got to be tough. You got to be smart. You got to play like a Raven. That's the standard we hold ourselves to. They were different. Their identity was not in success. It was in how they worked, who they were.


Matt Birk:

I called my dad and I was like, Dad... I talk about faith, talk about family. I called my dad, I said, Dad, I can't believe I'm telling you this. I said, I want to play for this guy. He says, "Well, then play for him". [inaudible 01:00:43]. I said, give me the contract. Let's go. And it turned out to be an amazing experience. Not just because we won a Super Bowl, but John and I, I mean, we have amazing conversations about God, about family, about football, about just stuff, you know? And then he'd been on a football field. I mean, I don't know if I've never played for a harder coach. He was demanding. He was making sure you were going to play like a Raven, but off field it was incredible. All these experiences that went along with that for my family. But being able to spend four years with him changed my life. It changed my life.


Matthew Kelly:

What percentage of players would have made that phone call?


Matt Birk:

I don't know. I mean, like I said, I want to say it was probably more out of desperation than anything. I was kind of shocked and put off a little bit that I thought, I've got a pretty good resume, why isn't anybody calling? And that's really not necessarily my character. I think about it now, I'm probably more of