Stover's best shot Ravens: The NFL's most-accurate kicker dwells on the future, saying he's only as good as his next attempt.

September 27, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Ravens kicker Matt Stover has reclaimed his place among the game's elite specialists with a month of near-perfect work, although one would never know it by listening to him.

The record clearly indicates that Stover has rebounded from an up-and-down 1996 season, in which he missed two game-winning field-goal attempts.

This year, the Ravens are off to a 3-1 start, thanks largely to Stover. He already has kicked a game-winner to beat the New York Giants, has tied a career high with five field goals in last Sunday's rout of Tennessee and has missed only one of his 12 field-goal attempts.

He is tied for the NFL scoring lead with 44 points. He is once again the most-accurate kicker in NFL history, having made 138 of 171 career field-goal attempts (80.7 percent).

He also might be the person least impressed with those achievements.

"I'm off to a good start, and nothing more than that," Stover said. "A lot of kickers say you're only as good as your last kick. I disagree. I think you're only as good as your next kick. Yeah, I'm leading the league. So what. You know how many times I've led the league? What about the next kick?"

Based on Stover's track record-- no kicker was better over the 1994 and 1995 seasons, when he played for the Cleveland Browns -- the next kick has a pretty strong chance of sailing through the uprights.

Stover takes nothing for granted, beginning with snapper Brian Kinchen and punter-holder Greg Montgomery, whom he calls "the best in the business."

At 5 feet 11, 178 pounds, sporting Brady Anderson-like sideburns that accentuate his brown hair, Stover looks like the guy next door.

An eight-year veteran who has become a millionaire on the strength of his right leg, Stover Stover leads a low-key existence. He drives a 1994 Acura, while his Town and Country minivan makes more room for his wife and two daughters. During the off-season, the family lives in a modest, four-bedroom home in Georgetown, Texas, not far from Stover's native Dallas.

Stover derives deeper, more spiritual satisfaction from his relationship with God. Since becoming a born-again Christian after his second NFL season in 1991, he has made it a point to speak to youth groups each off-season about God's importance in their lives, and the need to avoid drugs and alcohol. He is always ready to testify to an inquiring teammate. He donates time and money to a score of charities in Texas and Baltimore. He emanates a sense of peace.

But when it comes to his job, Stover is wary of satisfaction. His attention to detail, from his honing of kicking mechanics to his workout regimen, does not allow it. Catch him after a 5-for-6 day, and he's likely to address the field goal that got away first.

"There's always a battle between self-doubt and self-confidence going on, like a battle between good and evil. It's all about shrinking your world down to one kick," Stover said. "I got into some mechanical problems last year, which was a humbling season for me. But it was due mainly to self-doubt. It's the mental side that gets you."

Special teams coach Scott O'Brien watched Stover's struggles in 1996. Part of the problem had to do with the offense, which scored so many touchdowns that Stover only had 25 field-goal attempts all year, converting 19 of them.

O'Brien is probably the one least surprised by Stover's re-emergence.

"I don't worry about Matt, because I know what he can do. He's probably the most knowledgeable kicker I've ever worked with," O'Brien said. "He's learned how to learn from each kick, whether it's a mechanical adjustment or something to do with the field conditions. Every since I've known him, he's always tried to better himself, no matter how good he is."

Montgomery, who works closely with Stover, is Stover's polar opposite. Montgomery is single, has dyed his hair white, wears an earring, sports several tattoos, showed up at training camp with his toenails painted black and enjoys the loud nightclubs that his partner avoids.

"We're opposites who get along. I respect [Stover] and he respects what I do, and we have fun working together and laughing at each other," Montgomery said. "Matt's a good Christian guy. He's honest. He never makes excuses and he's a hard worker. That's why he's so good at what he does."

The New York Giants drafted Stover in the 12th round in 1990, but he spent the entire season on injured reserve with a quadriceps ailment. After getting released in early 1991, the Cleveland Browns signed him as a free agent that spring.

By 1994, Stover was maturing into one of the top kickers in franchise history. That year, he topped Hall of Famer Lou Groza's 41-year-old mark by making 26 of 28 field-goal tries (92.7 percent), including 20 straight. In 1995, he broke his record by hitting 29 field goals and finished with a career-best 113 points.

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