Derrick Mason ends 15-year NFL career as a Raven

Derrick Mason stepped into retirement Monday as a member of the

Baltimore Ravens, the team that provided the sure-handed wide

receiver the biggest thrills and most significant friendships over

his 15-year NFL career.

Mason, 38, played eight seasons with Tennessee before signing as

a free agent with Baltimore in 2005. He never missed a game over

six seasons with the Ravens and is the team career leader with 471

catches and 5,777 yards receiving. He also ranks second with 29

touchdown catches.

After being released last year, Mason split time with the New

York Jets and Houston in 2011. But his spirit remained in

Baltimore.

Sitting between Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head

coach John Harbaugh, Mason bid farewell to football at the Ravens

training complex.

”The decision wasn’t hard to retire, and the decision where to

retire was just as easy,” Mason said. ”My heart was here. It

never left. My body left, but my heart stayed right in this

room.”

Mason thanked many of the people that helped him get through 230

NFL games, including Newsome, Harbaugh, and Ravens defensive stars

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He also paid homage to quarterback Steve

McNair, who threw passes to Mason with Tennessee and Baltimore.

”I can’t leave without thanking Steve,” Mason said. ”Him and

I, more or less, grew up together in the game of football my first

eight years and one here. Because of him, my numbers are what they

are. Because he looked for me, he trusted me, he counted on me. I

hope I never failed him. He will always be No. 1 with me.”

Mason briefly retired in 2009, days after McNair was killed in a

murder-suicide in Tennessee.

Mason ranks 11th on the NFL career list with 943 catches. He

amassed 12,061 yards receiving and scored 66 touchdowns. He is also

the only player in NFL history with at least 5,000 yards in returns

and 10,000 yards receiving.

”My run is over. It was a good one,” he said. ”I’m

happy.”

Newsome has been in charge of player personnel for the Ravens

since the team moved from Cleveland in 1996. Although he has signed

hundreds of free agents, he can’t remember anyone who made more of

an impact on the organization than Mason.

”I don’t know if there’s any one player over the span of their

career that did more for this organization than Derrick Mason,”

Newsome said.

Mason didn’t possess world-class speed. He was only 5-foot-10,

so he wasn’t a tall target. But he was a quarterback’s best friend,

mainly because of attention to detail and his ability to pull down

the football in the middle of a crowd.

When Baltimore drafted Joe Flacco and thrust him into the

starter’s role, Mason quickly became the rookie’s favorite

target.

”Derrick was a guy he could count on, a guy who was going to be

where he was supposed to be,” Harbaugh said. ”I’ve never seen a

better route-runner in football. A young quarterback could trust

that he’s going to be at the right depth, he’s going to come out of

his break quickly, he’s going to be where you expect him to be, and

he’s going to catch the ball.”

Mason wasn’t ready to quit last July after the Ravens released

him in a cost-cutting move. He latched on with the Jets, was cut,

then finished up with Houston in a dreary season that was

significant only in that it proved to Mason that it was time to

retire.

”The year didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but it went the way

it should have went,” he said. ”I believe God has something else

for me, and I believe there was a lesson I had to learn last year.

I learned it. I was able to mentally prepare myself to

retire.”

Asked what it meant to be the franchise leader in catches and

yards receiving, in addition to owning the top three receiving

seasons by a Raven, Mason replied, ”It means that the people who

were throwing to me had enough confidence that I would go and catch

the ball, and the people calling the plays trusted that I would be

where I need to me.”

Mason would like to be recognized not for his numbers, but for

the way he played the game.

”It was fun,” he said. ”I want to be remembered as a guy who

went out there and did his job the way he knew how – hard and

fast.”.