OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Derrick Mason wasn't the flashiest receiver. But his grit and will to win won Baltimore Ravens fans over during his six years with the organization.
His 5,777 receiving yards from 2005-2010 are a Baltimore franchise record, as are the 471 catches he made while wearing a Ravens uniform.
Despite spending his first eight years in Tennessee, Mason aligned his career with Baltimore. On Monday, while wearing the same suit he wore when he signed with Baltimore, he announced he was retiring a Raven.
"My heart was here," Mason said. "Tennessee's a good place, a great place. They gave me an opportunity to start my career. For that, I will always thank the brass there. But my heart was here. You can't do something somewhere else when you're heart's in another place. My heart was here. It was an easy choice for me."
Mason earned a lasting reputation as a tough and durable receiver during his time in Baltimore. He never missed a game in the 104 outings he was eligible to play in.
In a 2008 Week 16 matchup against Dallas, the last game played at Texas Stadium, Mason fought through the pain of a broken scapula and willed his way to complete the contest. Despite his body language indicating his injury, he managed to catch a touchdown after sustaining the break. Baltimore won that day 33-24.
Adding to his legacy, Mason played the following week and in each of Baltimore's three playoff games that season.
"I don't know if he ever missed a practice," coach John Harbaugh said.
Mason's toughness developed while growing up in Detroit. He told the story of playing in a pick-up football game in a parking lot as a child, when he fell and hit his head on the concrete. He started to cry and began to walk home.
"My brother grabs me by my neck and says, 'You're not quitting,' " Mason said. "I had to play. That's where it comes from. I was born and raised that way."
After completing his college football career at Michigan State, Mason knew the best way to contribute early in the NFL would be as a kickoff and punt returner. Over time, he worked his way into becoming a starting receiver but maintained his success on special teams. Mason became the only player in NFL history to record 5,000 return yards and 10,000 receiving yards. He holds the top three positions in Ravens history for receptions in a single season with 103 (2007), 86 (2005) and 80 (2008).
Mason caught 943 passes for 12,061 yards in his 15-year career. The receptions place him 11th all-time, and his yardage total ranks 19th in NFL history.
And the Ravens almost didn't get him. Baltimore and New England were in a bidding war for Mason after the Titans released him in 2005. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was heading home from the NFL combine when he received a call informing him the Ravens won out.
"Over the 17 years we've been here, we've signed a lot of free agents," Newsome said. "But 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 did."
But not all endings conclude how you'd expect. Before the 2011 season, Mason was caught off guard when the organization told him he was going to be released. Though it shocked him, he moved on and played the year with the New York Jets and the Houston Texans but finished with a combined 170 yards. The year became what he described as a learning experience, knowing it was time to retire.
"My run is over," Mason said. "It was a good one, and I'm happy."