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Steady Stover booted his way into the hearts of Ravens fans

If Ray Lewis is the face of the Ravens, and their heart and soul, Matt Stover is the franchise’s right foot. He tagged along with the Ravens when they moved to Baltimore from Cleveland. His big kicks carried them to the Super Bowl in 2000. And he was highly respected in both the locker room and in the community.

"He's one of the better men that I've ever been around my whole life," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said two seasons ago. "He's a class guy. You know that in clutch times, Stover is always going to be there."

There is nothing sexy about kicking field goals for a living, but former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan wasn’t the only one around here who had a foot fetish when it came to Stover, who on Thursday will formerly announce his retirement from the NFL. The Ravens’ all-time leading scorer was a fan favorite in this football-crazed city, which had a unique appreciation for one of the steadiest kickers in NFL history.

Just ask Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano, who were heavily scrutinized after the Ravens opted against bringing back Stover before the 2009 season and who couldn’t handle the pressure that came with replacing Stover, still alive and kicking.

The dependable veteran almost always delivered whenever the Ravens called on him, and the fans loved him for it. In most cities, there is a revolving door when it comes to kickers. But Stover was a constant in Baltimore for 13 seasons, booting clutch field goals and pointing to the heavens after each and every one of them.

He made 471 of his 563 career field-goal tries -- that includes his awkward stint kicking for the Colts in 2009 -- and missed only one extra point in his entire career (in 1992 when the Ravens were the Browns). Stover ranks fourth all-time with 2,004 points and his 83.7 percent accuracy rate is seventh. That’s why his nicknames were “Mr. Automatic” and “Money Matt” and his immediate successor was dubbed “Shankopotamus” after a few games.

The Ravens have finally found a long-term replacement in Billy Cundiff, who signed a five-year contract extension this offseason. But it could take years -- or maybe just one magical playoff run -- for the Pro Bowler to boot his way into Baltimore’s heart like Stover did.

Like Lewis said, “Stover is always going to be there.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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