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Former NFL football player Matt Birk autographs a sweatshirt for Richard Malone of Deer Creek at Men's Night Out Monday evening in Wadena. Birk was the guest speaker at Tri-County Health Care's annual event.

Birk shares stories with Men's Night Out crowd

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There was a time when Matt Birk had a job lined up for himself on Wall Street. Having earned an economics degree from Harvard University, Birk was going to enter the world of high finance.

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It may have worked out that way but the Minnesota Vikings had other plans for Birk. They wanted the Ivy League football standout to play football in the National Football League.

The big offensive lineman was taken in the sixth round of the 1998 draft by the Vikings and went on to enjoy 15 years in the NFL. Converted to a center, he played for Minnesota and Baltimore, was picked to play in six Pro Bowls and was part of a Super Bowl championship team in 2013.

On Monday night, Birk was the guest speaker at Tri-County's annual Men's Night Out. The 6-4 giant addressed a large crowd in the Memorial Auditorium, throwing out stories like he once threw blocks and giving inspirational insights from his long career as a pro athlete.

Birk tried out with the Vikings before the 1998 draft.Offensive line coach Mike Tice told him he would be drafted but added that the Vikings were not looking for linemen that year. It was bittersweet news for the Minnesota native.

"On draft day thing just kind of happened, I got a couple calls from a couple teams telling me 'we're looking at you, we're thinking of taking you with our next pick and then the phone rang and it was Denny Green and I knew Denny Green wasn't calling me to tell me they were going to maybe take me. When the head coach calls you he is telling you they are taking you. That was a pretty neat moment."

So Birk moved back home. For the first couple of months he was with the Vikings, Birk lived with his parents.

"My mom would wake me up and say, 'hey, you've got to go to work.' Not a lot of NFL players get to do that," Birk said.

By joining the Vikings, Birk joined a fraternity of men that he is very proud to belong to 16 years later. It is a fraternity that includes many different backgrounds and shares a passion for hard work and discipline.

"That's what neat about it, you get guys white, black, big, small, smart, dumb, Christian, atheist, you get them all and you've got these 53 alpha males and somehow you have to get everybody to come together and put their differences aside and their egos aside and work toward a common goal. It's an unbelievably unique situation."

Birk believes that a common misconception about NFL players is that talent alone is what makes them what they are.

"Talent will get you there but it definitely won't keep you there," Birk said.

Birk has always taken a keen interest in his health. He had to bulk up to play in the NFL but when his playing days were over he dropped 75 pounds off his 310-pound frame.

"Your body is your business, that's how you make your living," Birk said. "There are no guarantees so I think that by a combination of taking really good care of myself, which I took pride in, and a little bit of luck, I was able to last a long time."

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