Before every home game, BaltimoreRavens.com will run the feature story in Sunday's program. Here is this weekend's spotlight:
In his 19 NFL seasons, Matt Stover earned his respectful reputation as one of the game's most dependable kickers. The numbers speak for themselves: He is fourth on the NFL's all-time scoring list with 2,004 career points and has made the fourth-most field goals in NFL history. And, he holds the NFL record for most outdoor field goals (445).
Today, Stover will be inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor, presented by Smyth Jewelers. Most are familiar with Matt's strong faith, which undeniably contributed to his success. But, there were more components that played a role.
A Right-Handed Partner
Matt and Debbie, his wife of 20 years, met at Lake Highlands high school in Dallas. The pair bonded while sharing his love of kicking in a unique way for a high school couple.
"I would mow yards in the summertime, and in the evening, I would go kick. She was my holder, and she helped me shag balls," Stover recalls. "She was so cute doing it. She loved me."
Stover gives a great deal of credit to his wife for his long-term success. She was a crucial element of his football life and has been a solid partner who always supported him and empowered him on bad days. She was the rock on which Matt and their three children have always depended.
"We're very like-minded – spiritually, financially, family-wise, how we raise our children," says Stover. "When you have someone like that to come home to, it makes all the difference."
At times, he has even leaned on her during his contract time: "She had that intuition and discernment that I needed.
"I was very blessed to marry her."
Kickers are a rare breed. They're unique and different. They have certain routines, and some have superstitions. And, they're always the first target of their teammate's ribbing. Stover took his fair share and still to this day has to endure it from his old teammates, but he always found a way to make it work.
"As a kicker, you gain respect by performing well on game day, flat out," Stover explains. "You put the ball through the uprights, and they'll respect you."
Over the years, Stover had a number of witty, confident and sometimes crass teammates who would let him have it. Tony Siragusa comes to mind.
"Tony and I had a mutual respect. I wanted him to [rib] me," Stover confesses, "because I had to let it go. On Sunday, he'd be the first one to [congratulate me]; he and Rob Burnett. I had as much to do with that Super Bowl team as they did, and they know it."
But he also knew his place. He knew he didn't have to go out and battle physically like his teammates, and he never acted like he knew what they went through. He realized his position on the team.
"The thing about being a kicker – you're not out there getting your head beat in, so you've just got to know it. You embrace it."
Off the field, Stover became the player representative because he always desired to support his teammates in another way. And the players garnered a certain trust with him.
"I became kind of a liaison between the players and the coaches. I was neutral," Stover says. "I didn't care if we ran after practice, because I didn't run after practice. I didn't care how we practiced, if it was in pads or not. So [the players] asked me to communicate [their feelings] to the head coach. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes, it didn't."
Stover worked hard at earning his teammates' respect both on and off the field. He never missed a game – injured or not – in his career and is most proud that his team could always rely on him.
The Pressure Of The Kick
It takes a great deal of mental toughness to sustain a superb career that spanned two decades and four Presidents. For Stover, his faith is his foundation. Over the years, it helped keep things in perspective when times were bad.
"The five years in Cleveland grew me up," Stover recalls. "It was the school of hard knocks. I literally kicked on painted mud."
But his preparation and his routine were also keys to his success on the field.
"Every single game, I prepared for the game-winning kick. For 19 years of kicking, every game, I had to prepare for the game-winning kick," he says. "I missed a few game-winners; They hurt. But the makes are awesome. Both of them, you've got to just put them where they need to be and move on. It's the famous saying: 'You're only as good as your next kick.'
"The pressure of the kick is something that I've always wanted. I've always been the guy who's said, 'Give me the ball, Coach.' I want the ball. The pressure was something that I thrived on because I wanted the ball."
For the rest of us, we can only imagine what the pressure of the kick feels like. Stover said it's most like, "When you slam on your brakes, and you come an inch away from the car in front of you, and your heart is going through the roof, and it takes you at least 30 seconds to breathe. … That's how I felt every single [field goal attempt]. But, you train, you train, you train, and you get used to it."
Stover's career concluded after spending his final NFL season (2009) with the Indianapolis Colts, culminating in another Super Bowl appearance.
"I would've loved to have stayed and kicked for the Ravens in 2009, but the team wasn't ready to commit," acknowledged Stover. "I was 41 years old; I understood.
"But, I wanted to give it one more try to help a team get to the Super Bowl."
In the fourth quarter of a tight game between the Colts and Saints, Stover was called upon for a 51-yard field goal attempt. The longtime veteran, who had connected on a number of 50-plus-yarders during pre-game warmups, pushed the ball left. The Saints scored a go-ahead touchdown on the next series, and the Colts never scored again, falling to New Orleans, 31-17.
"That kick hurt a lot."
But, through his faith, Stover came to peace with that final kick.
"When I look back, I don't have any regret. I did everything I could. When I walked off that field [at Super Bowl XLIV], I said, 'That's it.'"
His Name In Lights
Rarely do kickers get the recognition as NFL greats like the rest of their gridiron brethren. In fact, amazingly, only one kicker has been inducted into the Hall of Fame thus far (Jan Stenerud).
Stover is thrilled to be honored as one of the Ravens' recipients, but he knows he didn't get there alone.
"It's not just Matt Stover up there," Stover pronounces. "Number One, it's the Lord. Number Two, it's all the people that supported me to get here, including my family. And thirdly, it was me. Sure, I'm part of that.
"But with humility, I'll say that Ozzie [Newsome, Ravens GM] and his staff, including the coaching staff, always had good guys around me. I had to have a snap and a hold, so it wasn't just me. It was a privilege."