Another ring to boot?

Matt Stover: The consistent kicker has helped put the Ravens into the Super Bowl, where he can earn a ring to go with one he's keeping hidden this week.

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 27, 2001|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Matt Stover's Super Bowl ring is a no-show this week.

Stover, the place-kicker who won the ring when he was a rookie on injured reserve with the New York Giants in 1991, hasn't displayed the Super Bowl XXV jewelry under strict orders from his current Ravens teammates.

"I was told that if I wore it this week," Stover said, "I would get kicked out of the hotel."

So Stover, who celebrates his 33rd birthday today, is on a mission to obtain another ring. And if tomorrow's match-up between the Ravens and those Giants develops into a much-anticipated defensive battle for field position, Stover's accurate right leg just might be Baltimore's best weapon.

"A Matt Stover gives you a certain consistency that when you reach a certain point, you can count on those points going up on the board," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "You'd like touchdowns, but when you get in [the red zone], you at least come away with three points. And with the style of play we have evolved to, that's actually more important than the other."

That emphasis is linked to Stover's proficiency at kicking field goals. He has converted 57 of his past 62 field-goal attempts dating back to last season and led the NFL during the regular season with 135 kicking points.

The fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history with an 80.8 percent success rate, Stover has sometimes been the Ravens' only threat. His string of 48 consecutive points included nine field goals that were the only points in back-to-back wins against the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars in October.

For Stover, those statistics amplify a reason for success that he has long relied upon.

"You have to visualize it," he said. "Every golfer, if you ask him, he will tell you that he's visualized making that 40-foot putt to win a tournament. You have to do that."

Another factor has been Stover's ability to clear his mind and block out the distractions in the game. Traveling to enemy territory such as Tennessee's Adelphia Coliseum, Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum and Washington's FedEx Field may be intimidating for some, but people have tried to spook Stover ever since the Giants drafted him as the second-to-last pick in the 1990 draft.

Then-New York head coach Bill Parcells used to taunt the rookie from Louisiana Tech by threatening to waive him if he missed 15 field-goal attempts in practice.

Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa has replaced Parcells as Stover's chief antagonist. To help prepare Stover for the trials of kicking against the backdrop of Oakland's "Black Hole," Siragusa mooned his teammate during the week of practice preceding the AFC championship game.

"If you can't handle that kind of situation, then your coaches and teammates get a little leery of you. ... There are all kinds of distractions going on in a game, but I don't mind it," Stover said.

After signing as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 1991, Stover endured the tumultuous move to Baltimore in 1996 and has been a fixture for 10 seasons. Special teams coach Russ Purnell has been around for two and has witnessed Stover's ways up close.

"I think Matt's a true professional in the sense that his preparation is meticulous," Purnell said. "He puts himself in any situation mentally so that if an unusual situation does come up - like kicking off from the 15 after a PAT or kicking a field goal from 45 before halftime - he's ready to do it on Sunday."

Stover has the trust of his teammates, even if a few are still wary about depending on a kicker.

"As football players, we don't like to leave it to a kicker," said center Jeff Mitchell. "But it's a luxury to have a kicker as consistent as he is."

"Matt Stover has been in the NFL since I've been in middle school," said defensive tackle Lional Dalton, 25. "Kicking field goals is second nature for him. We have confidence in his ability."

Stover said he doesn't have any superstitions to aid him. Stover, a Christian, said he relies on his faith and his ability to mentally prepare himself.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that Stover has already envisioned kicking a game-winning field goal tomorrow.

"You have to relish it and look forward to doing it," he said. "If you don't, you won't be successful when that situation comes up."

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