Talk of Stover's departure kicks up fuss among fans

The Baltimore Sun

In the brief history of the Ravens, there hasn't been much fuss when the team has decided not to re-sign players. The Ravens have allowed Pro Bowl players such as Vinny Testaverde and Jamal Lewis to leave with few complaints.

A few fans were upset when the Ravens didn't bring back quarterback Trent Dilfer after the Super Bowl in the 2000 season.

But nothing like the uproar over the Ravens not re-signing kicker Matt Stover. You can mess with any other Raven on the roster, but not Stover.

"I'm a sentimentalist," said Ed Oliver, 57, owner of P & E Construction, near Hampstead. "Matt Stover was loyal to this organization and still performed well. I didn't see any reasons ... to get rid of him."

The logic is that Stover, 41, no longer gets good distance on kickoffs. Even though he is accurate on field goals, the Ravens prefer to use one player (Steve Hauschka) instead of two on the roster for kickoffs and field goals.

But football games aren't always won on logic. A lot are won on common sense, and that would suggest the Ravens bring Stover back for another year.

The Ravens should allow Stover to kick until he is no longer effective.

How many times have fans high-fived before the kick when Stover jogged out onto the field to attempt a game-winning field goal? How many times have I turned to my colleagues in the press box to say it's over once the Ravens get to the 30-yard line because Stover is automatic?

Stover has been Mr. Clutch. He has converted on 14 game-winning field goals, most in NFL history. He has three other NFL records, including consecutive games with a field goal (38), and most games with at least four field goals (26).

Fans should be mad. They weren't this angry when star linebacker Ray Lewis threatened to leave town to play for the New York Jets or the Dallas Cowboys. But this is Stover.

"This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen the Ravens do. We don't want to keep anybody who has proven themselves, do we?" Yvonne Bellamy, 50, a data specialist from Essex, asked sarcastically.

"We finally think we have our team together. It's like putting together a good sales team, and you have the home run hitter, the perfect closer in Matt Stover. Is he just a kicker, or is he a game-winner?"

Stover is more than just a kicker. He is extremely active in the community. He gets around town like a veteran politician. His jersey isn't as popular as Lewis' 52 or Todd Heap's 86, but a lot of elementary school kids, like Hannah Cimerola, 11, of West Friendship School in Howard County, wear No. 3.

"To not bring him back is not a good choice," Hannah said. "He is a really good kicker. When we were not scoring touchdowns, he was always scoring points."

Tray-Von Delk, 11 and a fifth-grader at West Friendship, agrees.

"Normally, we can't make a touchdown, but he always makes field goals," said Tray-Von, who rated Stover as one of his favorites along with Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens think they have the answer for Stover in Hauschka, who has a big leg and dropped a 54-yard field goal on the Houston Texans last season. Hauschka has better range, and Stover's limit seems to be around 47 yards. But Hauschka is untested.

At this point, the Ravens have told Stover thanks, but no thanks. There is a chance the Ravens could re-sign him, but Stover might not be around that long. His credentials are impeccable. When you think of the Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2000, two names quickly come to mind: Ray Lewis and Matt Stover.

He has been a longtime favorite in Baltimore, and fans won't let him go easily.

"I think this is terrible, especially as many times as Matt Stover has saved the Ravens' butts," said Susan Diehl, a nurse from Bel Air. "He has been a shining example of what an athlete should be. He is courteous, professional and the epitome of what we want our kids to be. The guy has been awesome."

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