Divine Intervention

As With Moves Of The Past Year, What's Next For Stover Isn't In His Hands Alone

February 02, 2010|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

Matt Stover was willing to walk away last spring without regret. He was willing to pack up his memories and trophy footballs and move on with life. After 19 years of kicking in the NFL - 13 with the Ravens - he could have closed the book on a distinguished career.

That he didn't walk - and now finds himself kicking for the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday's Super Bowl in South Florida - is one of this week's most compelling stories. It might also be a story of divine intervention, Stover says.

"God's footprints are all over this thing," he said. "Is it surreal? Yeah. How could it not be?"

Surreal is Stover nearly moving his family to Dallas last spring, deciding not to uproot his teenage children, then waiting for a Super Bowl contender to phone and finally getting the call in mid-October.

Surreal is receiving a guaranteed offer of $1.2 million from the New York Jets in March - but no such guarantee from the team he had steadfastly served for more than a decade.

Surreal is following the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996 to play for the Ravens - and then joining the team the Ravens replaced.

It's surreal, all right.

Stover's improbable journey began last March when his Ravens contract expired. They told him he could come back but without a guarantee or signing bonus. It quickly became clear the team wanted to move on itself and use that kickoff specialist's roster spot for a position player.

Without the commitment he sought from the Ravens, Stover declined their offer. Then he rejected the Jets' offer - which came from former Ravens assistant Rex Ryan - because it would have meant forcing out one of his best friends in football, Jay Feely. Then he wrestled with a different scenario: going back to his hometown of Dallas, where his mother had a brain tumor and his mother-in-law had breast cancer, or keeping his three children in Baltimore, where they were entrenched.

Last week, Stover revealed how close he came to leaving. He went so far as to enroll his two older kids in private schools in Dallas, and he did his share of house-hunting in the area between March and May. In the interim, he prayed, sought the advice of friends - and continued to work out.

When the decision to stay came in late May, it was a family decision.

"Just because we can [move] doesn't mean we should," Stover said. "The kids were settled in Baltimore, and it would have been a major disruption to move to Dallas. ... [Besides] you just don't move a ninth-grader. And there's no way I would have been able to play in the NFL [with his family in Texas] and be an absentee dad."

So Stover worked out and waited. He declined a chance to kick against the Ravens in September on a short-term offer from the Browns. On Oct. 6, he worked out for the New York Giants. The same week, the Colts called, saying Adam Vinatieri had had surgery and would be out an extended period.

The Giants were a possibility for Stover because they were a train ride away, but they didn't offer a contract. The Colts were more problematic, but they did make an offer.

What Stover extracted from the Colts - albeit they save it reluctantly - was a prorated guarantee of $600,000 for the last 12 weeks of the regular season. That guaranteed money was the commitment the Ravens were unwilling to give. The Colts insisted on the stipulation that if they cut Stover before the season ended and he was signed by another team, they would not have to pay the rest of his contract. What Stover also got was permission to return to Baltimore after Sunday games to see his family.

It was never about the money, Stover says.

"If it was about the money, I would've taken the $1.2 million guarantee the Jets offered me," he said. "It was a business deal [with the Colts], and I wanted them to commit to me."

The Colts got a good deal in the end, too. Stover made nine of 11 field-goal tries for the AFC South champions, hitting from as far away as 43 yards and missing from 52. His 25-yard kick Nov. 22 beat the Ravens, 17-15. In two playoff games, he's 5-for-5 with a long kick of 44.

Even though Vinatieri appeared ready to return to the team late in the season, the Colts decided to retain Stover as their kicker.

"It's been huge for us," center Jeff Saturday said about the addition of Stover. "Matt's played fantastic for us. He's made some big kicks, and you've got a veteran back there. The guy's played longer than some guys have been alive, I think."

This is Stover's 20th season in the NFL, although he spent the first on injured reserve with the Giants in 1990. Having turned 42 last week, he will become the oldest player ever to participate in the Super Bowl.

"I see it as a privilege and an awesome opportunity," he said. "But I am real certain there are things a 42-year-old has to deal with physically that a 22-year-old doesn't."

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