9:02 PM EDT, May 25, 2011
Matt Stover retiring? At the tender age of 43? What's he going to do, sit home all day and wait for the mailman to show up, like lots of other retirees we know?
Me, I still picture Stover working out on a dusty high school field, a couple of kids shagging balls as he kicks field goals through the uprights for hours in the hot sun.
I still picture him hoping the phone will ring and praying it's the Ravens on the other end, telling him they screwed up back in 2009 when they let him go for the training camp tag team of Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano.
Or maybe I see Stover trying to find another situation like he did with the Colts two years ago, when Adam Vinatieri went down with a bum knee, Stover filled in and Indianapolis went to the Super Bowl.
But instead of all that, Stover, one of the greatest Ravens of them all, will make his NFL retirement official at a news conference Thursday at the Castle in Owings Mills.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will be there, and so will general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh.
All three men will say lots of nice things about Stover and talk about all he did with that accurate right foot and those riverboat-gambler nerves in his 13 seasons here — and all he did in the community, too, the civic and charitable work he rarely talked about.
And the truth is, this little ceremony Thursday is only fitting. Because in terms of what he did for this franchise and the way he represented himself year in and year out, Matt Stover belongs up there with Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden and Ed Reed and anyone else you'd care to name.
If you're one of these fools who would dismiss Stover as "only a kicker," then you didn't follow Stover's career too well.
The numbers tell part of the story, of course.
Stover goes into the record books as the Ravens' all-time leading scorer with 1,464 points. In his 20-year NFL career, he kicked 471 field goals and scored 2,004 points to rank fourth in league history in that category.
But it was how reliable Stover was year in and year out that Ravens fans will always remember, how cool and clutch he was in big games, in those moments when another kicker might have been hyperventilating and ready to lose his lunch.
If you were a Ravens fan and saw Stover trot onto the field for a big kick, saw him go through his setup ritual — as precise as a Buddhist tea ceremony — you figured it was money in the bank.
Go ask Brian Billick what it was like to have his team driving for a late field goal and see Stover, cool and unruffled, warming up on the sideline.
Or go back to that glorious 2000 season, when the Ravens had the best defense in the NFL and an offense that was such a mess, it failed to score a touchdown in five straight games.
All Stover did that season was kick 35 field goals to lead the league and keep the Ravens in games all the way until they beat the New York Giants, 34-7, in the Super Bowl.
Which leads to the big question.
Does he get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with all those gaudy numbers?
Jan Stenerud, the great Kansas City Chief who also played for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, is the only true kicker in Canton. (Kickers George Blanda and Lou Groza are in the Hall, but they also played other positions. Blanda was a quarterback, and Groza was an offensive lineman.)
Over the years, football people have argued for the likes of Gary Anderson and Morton Andersen and Vinatieri himself, another Mr. Clutch, to be enshrined.
But it hasn't happened. Kickers, punters and special teams players are still kept at arm's length by the Hall, which is not exactly what Stover's Hall backers want to hear.
But no matter how dopey the Hall's stance on kickers is, Stover gets into the Ravens Ring of Honor, no doubt about that.
When that day comes, he'll join Ogden and Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary and Art Modell in that hallowed group, along with all the old Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts like John Unitas, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore and the rest.
And he'll deserve it.
If you wanted a great player with character and dedication and all the other traits the great ones have, Matt Stover was as good as they come.
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