'I'm toast,' Stover says, after emotional return

Ex-Ravens kicker hits game-winning field goal, thanks Baltimore fans

November 23, 2009|By Ken Murray | ken.murray@baltsun.com

For three hours, it was like any other football game he had ever played in, a blip on the big-screen picture that is Matt Stover's illustrious NFL kicking career.

Only when it was over, when his new team, the Indianapolis Colts, beat his old team, the Ravens, did Stover let down his guard and hint at what this meant.

"I am emotionally exhausted," he said in the Colts' locker room. "I'm toast. I may not show it, but I'm toast. That's hard, especially against friends and a team you love so much. I don't mind saying it: I love the Ravens. Hey, what was I doing when the Colts hadn't signed me yet? I was coming to Ravens games."

For 13 years, Stover was one of the mainstays of Baltimore's transplanted Ravens. He was not only one of the most respected kickers in the NFL, he was also one of the community's most respected citizens. To his teammates, he was player representative, financial consultant, even father figure for some.

When the Ravens made the tough call in the offseason to turn Stover loose, he took the high road, even though he wanted badly to stay. When he came back to beat them, 17-15 , on a chip-shot, 25-yard field goal Sunday, he didn't deviate from that path.

There was no acrimony, either, in his pre-game, on-field chat with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who decided to keep just one kicker on the roster instead of two as in previous Stover seasons.

"He and I talked about it, and how he and I were on the same page to some extent with what they were doing in the offseason," Stover said. "I couldn't change his mind about whether or not I was going to be on this team or not. … But I have no bitterness. I told you that before. It's been a privilege to play for the Ravens for 13 years."

Stover hit 19 game-winning field goals for the Ravens. Sunday marked his first for the Colts. It came with seven minutes left in the game, and it was not an obvious game-winner. Along the Colts' sideline, Stover watched as the Ravens drove down the field toward a potential field goal by Billy Cundiff and the lead. And he steeled himself for the last kick.

"Cundiff's going to kick the game-winner," Stover told himself, "and then we'll have enough time for us to drive and kick that [last] field goal. That's exactly what was going through my mind during that whole time."

Last-minute heroics were unnecessary when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a drive-killing interception and when Ed Reed lateraled away the game with 17 seconds left.

"Obviously, I don't think anybody can speak for Matt and what he was feeling coming back here," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt's done a heck of a job for us. He's made some huge field goals. … He's been a guy who I can say has been in the arena and been in a lot of big games. I'm sure this was an emotional game for him, and I felt happy that he made the kick for the game-winner."

How hard was it?

When a local broadcaster started a TV interview by introducing him as "Colts kicker Matt Stover," Stover clutched at his heart. Not once, but twice.

When Ravens fans clapped for him at game's end as he ran through the tunnel, he paused to say a heartfelt "thanks."

"It was just awesome for them to receive me that way," Stover said, "even after their team just got beat."

The Colts signed Stover after their fifth game, when kicker Adam Vinatieri required knee surgery. Stover got a guaranteed contract - which is what he sought from the Ravens - and has been perfect since. He's 7-for-7 in field goals and 15-for-15 on extra points, including the one that beat the New England Patriots a week ago.

"He's a true professional," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "Nothing really gets him upset. … He just came in and did his job, and I'm certain he felt some kinship [with the Ravens]. These guys love him around here. He had a great career ... and he still lives here.

"I think it's probably a satisfying win for him, that's for sure."

Stover said he appreciated the opportunity the Colts gave him, as well as spending 13 years with the Ravens. He has moved on. But he doesn't let go of past ties. His kids frolicked on the field well after the game ended Sunday, wearing Stover's No. 3.

"They have a bunch of great coaches, great players on that team," Stover said of the Ravens. "I know they'll bounce back. It comes down to the character of the team, the heart of that team. And that's the players. Those players have it. I know they do."

High-fives
Billy Cundiff tied Matt Stover's Ravens' franchise record for field goals in a game with five. Kicker Date Opponent TriesCundiff 11/22/09 Colts 6Stover 10/14/07 Rams 5Stover 10/8/00 at Jaguars 5Stover 12/26/99 Bengals 5Stover 9/21/97 at Titans 6

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