Another time, he and some buddies chose to play hookey during a snowstorm. Suspicious, Kallok, the coach, tracked them down and "offered" them a lift to school.
"My car got stuck twice," Kallok said. "So I made them get out and push."
At 16, Birk got his driver's license. One month and four accidents later, he was forced to give it up. On one occasion, distracted by a girls softball game, he plowed into the back of another car.
"I didn't drive for four more years," he said. "Bumming rides from your little brother can be kind of humbling."
Birk made do, as always.
"I remember once we were going to double date, but a girl named Elise stood him up," high school teammate John Kipka said. "My date and I insisted he come along anyway. That whole evening, Matt pretended the girl was there with him. At the restaurant, he asked for a table for four, pulled the chair out for Elise and asked if she wanted water. At the movie, he bought her popcorn.
"Talk about turning a negative into a positive. We spent the whole night laughing."
'A complete life'
At Harvard, Birk blossomed, in football, leading the Crimson to a 9-1 mark in his final year.
"Matt made a quantum leap between his junior and senior years," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. "His turning point came as a junior, against Penn. They had a lineman, Mitch Marrow [who was later drafted in the third round by the Carolina Panthers] who beat the hell out of Matt. Something clicked there. Birkie was a different player from then on. He swore that wouldn't happen again.
"His senior year, he was a man and a half."
He certainly ate like one. Birk's appetite was legend. At Tommy's Pizza, in Cambridge, the owner challenged him to eat his "Colossal Calzone," a monstrous meal consisting of four whole chicken breasts, a pound of cheese, veggies and sauce, all wrapped in a huge, thick-crusted pizza.
Free food? Birk took the bet.
"That calzone was the size of an automobile tire," said Skelton, his roomie. "But, damned if Matt didn't eat the whole thing, while watching 'Monday Night Football.' Everybody there went nuts. They took his picture and put it on the wall.
"What the owner didn't know was that, two steps outside the restaurant, Matt threw up the whole thing in the bushes."
Minnesota drafted him in the sixth round in 1998. Birk used part of the money to buy his first car — a used Dodge truck with hand-cranked windows and 60,700 miles. The Vikings rookie haggled with the salesman forever as his parents sat by.
"Matt walked out of dealership three times before they agreed on the price," Pam Birk said.
Having made the team, Birk bought a century-old duplex in his old St. Paul neighborhood, rented most of it to friends and, for three years, made the unheated basement his home. A bed, bathroom, TV and mini-fridge were all he had. That, a salivating bulldog named Jake and a wardrobe consisting of several T-shirts, team-issued shorts, a baseball cap and some flip-flops.
"I guess I lived like the Unabomber, but I've always been a sort of minimalist," he said.
That changed when he met Adrianna. Her parents owned a local restaurant and Birk, smitten with their daughter, went there dozens of times with hopes of asking her out.
"Every time I chickened out, I figured that at least I was getting a good meal out of it," he said.
Finally, he asked, they dated, he proposed and they married. Now, the Birks have half a dozen kids, homes in Minnesota and Hunt Valley and a 40-acre fishing preserve ("My slice of heaven," he says) that he bought recently in Spring Valley, Wisc.
Five of their children's names are tattooed on Birk's left shoulder, with infant Brady's yet to come. When not on the road, he reads to them — everything from Dr. Seuss to "Robinson Crusoe" — and tucks each in at night.
Birk, who missed the entire preseason while recovering from knee surgery and is in the last year of a three-year contract worth $12 million, has not decided whether he'll continue his playing career.
"It won't depend on whether or not we win the Super Bowl, but on what's best for my family," he said. "We'll sit down after this season and talk about it. A lot of people wrote me out this year. What brought me back? A great doctor, the training staff and the grace of God. I'll always have the fire to play, but I've got to see what life with six kids is like."
Birk is to be envied, other Ravens say.
"Matt has a complete life," kicker Billy Cundiff said. "He's able to balance a marriage, the kids and a career. He calls it 'controlled chaos,' but he's authentic.
"He does things his way. It's not abrasive, and there's no air about it. He just knows what he wants to do, and he gets it done."