Matt Stover leaves football with no regrets

Former kicker will be inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor on Nov. 20

May 26, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

There are, quite literally, dozens of moments during Matt Stover's kicking career that could be cited as evidence that he is one of the all-time great Ravens, but one moment that occurred during the Super Bowl-winning season of 2000 sums up just how important he truly was.

The Ravens were mired in what would go down as an infamous five-game touchdown drought. Coach Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh were struggling to find a way to get the Ravens' offense going, and in the middle of a close game, the two were discussing what play they should call on a crucial third down on the opponent's side of the field. That's when Stover heard several defensive players barking at the coaches.

"They were saying: 'Just kick it! Kick it! Don't even go for it, just fall on it, or kick it now!'" Stover said.

Billick didn't take the advice of his defensive players, but the message was clear: Stover is the only part of our offense we trust right now.

Stover, who scored an incredible 49 consecutive points for the Ravens during that five-game stretch, officially called it a career Thursday, retiring from the NFL after a 20-year career. The Ravens held a news conference to celebrate his contributions to the franchise, and owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome announced that the team would induct Stover into its Ring of Honor Nov. 20, during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Stover did not play in 2010, and in 2009 he spent much of his final season as an active player with the Indianapolis Colts. The Ravens would have loved to sign him to a one-day contract so he could officially retire in purple but can't because of the NFL lockout. Stover didn't need to put anything down on paper, however. In his heart, he said, he'll forever be a Raven.

"Playing for the Baltimore Ravens, I've always said, is a privilege," Stover said. "Being in the [NFL] has been a privilege, more than anything you can imagine."

As far as numbers go, Stover will go down as one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the NFL. His 2,004 career points are the fourth-highest total in league history, and his career field-goal percentage of 83.7 is the seventh highest of all time. That number looks even better when you consider that every kicker above him on the list has at least 300 fewer attempts.

And no kicker was more accurate outdoors during his career than Stover. The Ravens did the math. Stover was actually more accurate when he was subjected to the elements (445 of 524 on field-goal attempts, or 84.9 percent) than he was kicking indoors.

"Matt raised the bar in terms of accuracy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It used to be that guys were making 68 or 72 percent and they were considered successful kickers. Matt set the bar around 85 percent. Now that's what everybody wants. If you're not over 80 percent, you're not kicking in this league."

Will those numbers, along with Stover's reputation for doing charity work in the Cleveland and Baltimore communities, be enough to get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday? Newsome and Harbaugh believe it will. Jan Stenerud is the only player who was exclusively a kicker enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

"There is no doubt in my mind that kickers, punters and returners should be considered and they should be in the Hall of Fame," said Harbaugh, a longtime special teams coach. "Maybe I am a little biased, and I'll be accused of that, but I've been saying it for years, and I think Matt will lead the charge. You look at the Sean Landetas and the Brian Mitchells -- these are guys that should be in the Hall of Fame. It's part of the game. It wins and loses football games for us. When Matt walks on the field, the game is on the line -- you either win or you lose. That's a huge part of the game, and I don't know how that wouldn't be honored and recognized in the Hall of Fame."

Stover, who wore a black suit and purple tie for his news conference, joked about what a fascinating journey it has been from his teenage years growing up in Texas. Twenty-five years ago, Stover would stand on his high school football field, and for hours at a time, he would kick field goals, whether his team had practice or not. He needed someone to hold the football, however, so he asked his high school girlfriend, Debbie, if she would stand by his side. She said yes; eventually, he married her.

Debbie Stover and the couple's three children also attended the news conference Thursday, and after Bisciotti called her up on stage, she talked about what it was like to watch her husband kick so successfully for so many years and what a big role faith played in their existence.

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