WR Derrick Mason Formally Retires As A Raven
"BALTIMORE IS AN AMAZING PLACE"
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- To say that things can sometimes come full circle would be an understatement.
But that's exactly what happened Monday afternoon when Ravens' all-time leading receiver, Derrick Mason, announced his retirement in the Under Armour Performance Center auditorium.
"This is bittersweet for me, obviously, (but) the journey was amazing," Mason said. "(Baltimore) is an amazing place. ... My heart was always here.
"I just want to be remembered as a guy who did his job the best way he knew how, the only way he knew how, hard and fast."
The ironic circumstances that served as bookends to Mason's career were numerous.
For one thing, it was four years ago Tuesday that Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden -- an 11-time Pro Bowl pick and the team's first-ever draftee -- retired in the same room. Mason thanked Ogden, Ray Lewis and his other Baltimore teammates for making him a part of a team after he had vigorously competed against them as a member of the Tennessee Titans.
"I knew what this team was about," said Mason, recalling how he picked the Ravens instead of the New England Patriots when he signed as a free agent in 2005. "This defense was tough, and I didn't want to play against them any more."
Not only that, but when word first leaked a year ago that Mason -- wearing the same suit he did on the day he signed -- was being released from the cap-room-starved team along with other well-known players such as Kelly Gregg, Willis McGahee and Todd Heap, it made for a gloomy Monday for Ravens fans.
But this particular Monday was a considerably happier one, as Mason's bright smile and eloquent, reflective nature -- especially when recalling his release and fractured 2011 season, in which he played for two different teams -- shone even more brightly than the sun did outside.
"The year didn't go the way I wanted to," Mason said. "But it went the way it should have. It was a lesson I needed to learn. ... The part of my body I played the most with was still here.
"My heart was still here."
The 38-year-old Mason is the Ravens' all-time leader in receptions (471), receiving yards (5,777), touchdowns by a wide receiver (29) and single-game catches by a wideout (11, at San Francisco, 2007). He caught 50 or more passes during each of his six seasons in Baltimore and had four 1,000-yard seasons as a Raven.
Plus, thanks to Mason's eight highly productive years with the Tennessee Oilers and Titans (1997-2004) -- the team that managed to get him from Michigan State during the fourth round (98th overall pick) of the draft -- his 943 career catches had him third among active receivers and 11th on the all-time list at the time of his retirement.
In Tennessee, Mason first made his mark as a return specialist, capping off five years of duty at that spot with a sparkling 2000 season during which he averaged 13 yards per punt return and a 27-yard average on kickoff runbacks.
Mason finished his 15-year career, which included stops with the New York Jets and Houston Texans after his release in Baltimore, with more than 12,000 receiving yards.
"We've signed a lot of free agents here, a lot of them," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I don't know if any player that did more for us than Derrick Mason did."
Such production has won Mason glowing compliments from some of the league's best cornerbacks.
"Derrick is a true pro and one of the best of his time, in my opinion," Denver's Champ Bailey said. "His numbers don't lie. The game is losing a great one."
"I compare him and Joey Galloway," then-Oakland cornerback DeAngelo Hall said in 2008. "They're like the same. They're the same fine wine. It seems like they get better with age."
Throughout his career, Mason's role was that of the "Z" (flanker) receiver, the one that does the dirty, chain-moving work as opposed to the "X" (split end), who is more of a downfield threat.
As a result, many that play that position end up with careers that are classic examples of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
For example, Mason's 12.3-yard per-catch average is the lowest among Ravens wideouts of consequence, even lower than those posted by other flankers such as Anquan Boldin (14.2), Michael Jackson (14.2) and Travis Taylor (13.5).
With Baltimore, the most touchdowns Mason ever had during a single season was seven (2009, 2010), and his single-season-yardage high-water mark of 1,087 in 2007 is just the fourth best in Ravens history. His career-long 46-game streak with at least one catch is third highest in franchise history.
Not only that, but the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Detroit native posted the modest total of 176 points, sixth-most in team history. But he will drop a notch early during the 2012 season, as Ray Rice is just two points behind him.
A fact that will win any knowledgeable fan plenty of money in bar bets is the quarterback that threw Mason his longest Ravens touchdown wasn't a longtime starter, such as Kyle Boller or Joe Flacco. It was Troy Smith, who authored a 79-yard bomb to Mason during a 2007 loss at Seattle.
But Mason's career will be defined by his willingness to do the kind of things nobody else would, such as playing on a cracked shoulder blade in 2008, which bothered him from the moment the injury occurred in Houston in November until season's end.
The injury took place in a game that should not have been played. The Houston contest was a makeup from a Week Two postponement because of Hurricane Ike causing damage to Reliant Stadium.
But Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl pick (2000, 2003) caught at least three passes during every game the rest of the way -- 10 consecutive contests, including the AFC Championship Game -- including a 66-yard, six-catch effort in Dallas that included a key touchdown during a nationally televised, 33-24 win.
What was especially noteworthy about that victory was not only that it was the final one played at Texas Stadium, but one that marked the Ravens' first visit there.
"Mason left the game three times," USA Today's Jarrett Bell recalled about the Dallas ordeal. "... This was true grit. ... (He) has always been a special player, who excels at the little things that make a big difference.
"When the Ravens needed him the most at Dallas, he exemplified that."
All told, the durable Mason played in 230 of a possible 240 regular-season games, missing none of his 96 contests (plus eight playoff games) during his time in Baltimore. He suited up for 149 straight games from 2002-11.
"The thing that jumps out at me is that he never missed a game as a Raven," head coach John Harbaugh. "I can't remember him ever missing a practice."
As with many wide receivers, Mason provided more than his fair share of drama.
Besides the usual and occasional complaining about not getting the ball enough, Mason flirted with retirement several times -- mostly expressing those feelings at the deflating end of another championship-less season -- and actually did step away from the Ravens before the 2009 season before returning to training camp amid much fanfare.
Speaking of fanfare, Mason will become Hall of Fame-eligible for the first time in 2017, the same year that players such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Dawkins, Torry Holt and Hines Ward also get their names on the ballot. Yet, the ultra-confident Mason downplayed his chances for joining Newsome in Canton.
"(Newsome) revolutionized the tight end position," Mason said. "I'm not sure I did the same for the wide receiver position. I hope the numbers speak for themselves.
"If they're enough, then they're enough. But not everybody can get in."
It's important to remember that there are no official team affiliations connected with Hall of Fame inductees, as there are in baseball. There is no helmet logo on the bronze bust that is placed in Canton.
But there's no question that Mason's big heart, battered body and deep soul have come full circle, to a place where he has always felt he belonged.
Posted June 11, 2012