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Mason's remarkable run

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By Mike Wilkening

Derrick Mason announced his retirement on Monday. He retired a member of the Ravens, which was his choice. The Ravens held a press conference at their headquarters, and head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome paid compliments to a receiver who caught a team-record 471 passes in his six seasons for the franchise.

Tributes like this are few and far between. The NFL turns the page and a man’s name, still young by most standards but ancient by league metrics, is left behind, found only when thumbing through the index.

But Mason, 38, did enough in 15 NFL seasons to get his day Monday, and he was asked how he wanted to be recalled.

“I just want to be remembered (as) a guy that went out there,” Mason said, “and did what he was supposed to do on the football field, a guy that took up for his players regardless of what the situation was.”

The reliability of Derrick Mason is what I’ll remember. In the NFL, that is a great skill. Snap after snap after snap, cornerbacks lined up across from Mason and tried to render him unreliable, unable to do his job. They mostly failed. In an 11-season span from 2000-2010, Mason caught more than 60 passes in each campaign. Eight times he hauled in 73 passes or more.

He exceeded 100 receptions once, too, in 2007, his 11th NFL campaign, at age 33, for a Baltimore club beset by injuries. The Ravens entered the season with Super Bowl hopes and ended it 5-11. The late Steve McNair, Mason’s teammate in Baltimore and Tennessee, played but six games because of a variety of ailments and retired after the season. McNair and backup QBs Kyle Boller and Troy Smith targeted Mason 164 times in 2007, and with good reason — Mason hauled in 103 of those throws, a success rate of 62.8 percent. It was a remarkable performance for a club whose best blueprint ended wadded up in the garbage.

It’s even more remarkable that Mason fashioned a career of this length and quality. Mason, the late Joel Buchsbaum wrote in PFW’s 1997 Draft Preview, was “(a) good, tough football player with solid return skills who should be able to make a team as a backup receiver and contribute on special teams.” Buchsbaum gave him a fourth-round grade, and indeed, the then-Tennessee Oilers took him in Round Four, No. 98 overall.

Slowly but surely, Mason began earning a bigger role for Tennessee. By 2000, he was a starting receiver and a Pro Bowl returner for the Titans, breaking the NFL single-season record for all-purpose yards (2,690).

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome marveled Monday about Mason’s career path, then paid him high praise. 

“Over the 16, 17 years that we’ve been here, we’ve signed a lot of free agents — a lot of them. But, I don’t know if there is any one player over the span of their career that did more for this organization than Derrick Mason did,” Newsome said. “It could be argued that when you list them all, what Derrick did in the years that he was here, he’d be at the top or near the top. In my mind, [he is] probably at the top because of the number of years that he played here as a guy that wasn’t drafted here.”

It may be that Mason’s legacy is the longevity of his consistency of productivity. He made the Pro Bowl just twice, and he was not the dynamic play-making threat of other wideouts who will garner Hall of Fame consideration in the years to come. His 943 catches for 12,061 yards are 11th and 19th, respectively, in NFL history, according to records.

I don’t know if Derrick Mason will eventually have his day in Canton, but he earned his moment Monday in Maryland, and people listened as he talked about how he wanted to be remembered. We should all be so fortunate.

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