To Matt Stover, failure is one of life's greatest teachers. Judging by his success as a place-kicker, he is a pretty sharp student.
At 5 feet 11, 178 pounds, he is one of the smallest Ravens, but Stover's right leg might as well be a heavyweight. As he enters his seventh NFL season, he already lives in the rarefied air of some of the greatest kickers in league history.
Consider this. Since the start of the 1994 season, Stover has missed six field goals. Six. Through six seasons, he has converted 108 of 134 field goals, an 80.6 percent success rate that ranks him first all-time among kickers who attempted at least 100 field goals. Oh, and he has not missed an extra point attempt in 121 consecutive tries.
Not bad for a guy who was drafted in the 12th round by the New York Giants in 1990, spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve after veteran Raul Allegre beat him out for the job, then struggled with his accuracy and nagging injuries after the Cleveland Browns signed him as a Plan B free agent in 1991.
"Everybody needs failure in their lives and their careers to make them grow, to help them know what it takes," Stover said. "I'm in no way one of those guys who is content. Even though I'm leading the league, it's not like I've got this figured out. I've always got to improve. Complacency will kill you."
As long as Stover remains on his toes and gets within his range, he figures to go on demoralizing opponents with results that are nearly automatic.
If all kickers are considered specialists, Stover is a scientist.
He figures about 70 percent of the time -- weather conditions permitting -- he can kick a football to within a foot of a target from up to 45 yards out. The records speak for him. Since he beat out three other challenges in the Browns' 1993 training camp, Stover has elevated from excellent kicker to phenom status. He has missed only four of his last 53 attempts, dating back to early in the 1994 season.
"Matt has always been a solid kicker," Ravens special teams coach Scott O'Brien said. "Once you get to the top of your game, the hard part is staying there. He's done that. The numbers and the history don't affect him."
O'Brien raves about Stover's studious approach to his craft. The way he always is positioned squarely when he drives the football off a tee or in field goal situations. The way he combines power and accuracy with outstanding foot speed. The way he keeps his legs and the rest of his body strong with year-round weight training, which helps fight off injuries and fatigue late in the season.
And about those weather conditions. Stover's numbers are all the more remarkable, considering he amassed them while playing in the mud, snow and swirling winds of Cleveland Stadium.
Stover feels blessed these days. He's a wealthy man with a healthy family -- his wife, Debbie, gave birth to their son, Jacob on April 26, exactly a year after daughter Jenna was born.
A born-again Christian, Stover enjoys talking to youth groups and thrives on community work in the off-season. The American Heart Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the United Way, you name it. If Stover has the time, he'll spend it working for a charity.
"I have the ability to communicate with kids in that fun, moldable age, and the Lord has given me the platform to do it with," said Stover, who thinks about going into the ministry after football.
He credits God and his own experiences as a veteran with helping him handle the pressure that comes with being called upon to win a contest with one swing of the foot.
"I prepare myself for that pressure every game," he said. "I'm prepared to sit on the bench all day and do nothing until that last-second field goal. If you're put in that situation, you can't be surprised, or you're going to miss it."
Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles
Date: Tomorrow, 7: 30 p.m.
Site: Memorial Stadium
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Ravens by 3
Tickets: 1,700 remain
Line: Ravens by 3
Schedule Date ...... Opponent ....... Time
Aug. 10 .. at N.Y. Giants .. 1 p.m.
Aug. 17 .. Green Bay ....... 7 p.m.
Aug. 23 .. at Buffalo ...... 7: 30 p.m.
Pub Date: 8/02/96