It's an emotional reunion for fans every time the Indianapolis Colts return to Baltimore, but there will be a stronger tug on the heartstrings Sunday.
Matt Stover, one of the most beloved Ravens in team history, will kick against his former team for the first time as a member of the rival Colts.
For 13 seasons, Stover remembers hearing thunderous cheers from Ravens fans after countless clutch kicks. When he takes the field Sunday - suiting up for a Colts team that crushed this city in 1984 by moving to Indianapolis - he doesn't know what reaction to expect.
"I would hope that I have left a legacy here and that my reputation stands true and people honor that," Stover told The Baltimore Sun. "But hey, it's a mean business, too. I know the Baltimore people love their Ravens. I'm not faulting anybody for any other reaction."
Injured Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri told Stover that he received a lot of tears and boos when he returned to New England. He left the Patriots as a free agent and signed with the Colts. But Stover's situation is different.
The Ravens chose not to re-sign Stover and ultimately decided to go with Steve Hauschka, a younger kicker who could also kick off (which would allow the team to use only one roster spot on a kicker). As the Ravens replace Hauschka with Billy Cundiff on Wednesday, coach John Harbaugh said that looking back, the team should have kept Stover. "I guarantee you one thing, it'd be nice for Matt Stover [to be] kicking for us right now," Harbaugh said. "We're not afraid of [saying] that. Things didn't work out in the offseason."
On the drama of seeing Stover kick against the Ravens, Harbaugh said, "It's pretty juicy. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens."
Stover, the only place-kicker in the Ravens' first 13 seasons of existence, ranks as the second most accurate kicker in NFL history (among kickers with 150 attempts). His conversion rate was over 80 percent in his last 10 seasons with the Ravens.
His consistency on the field and commitment to the community off of it made him one of the most popular figures on the team. Fans wore his No. 3 jersey to games, something most NFL kickers would never see. Two years ago, a local radio station produced a musical tribute to Stover, changing the lyrics of Chris Daughtry's song "It's Not Over" to "It's Matt Stover."
So when Stover learned in March that the Ravens were moving in a different direction, he was "disappointed" in their decision.
"Yeah, I would have loved to play for them," Stover said. "But am I mad or resentful or bitter? None of those."
Stover had a chance to play for Rex Ryan and the New York Jets this offseason, but he didn't want to bump his friend Jay Feely out of a job. He then had tryouts during the regular season with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants before joining the Colts on Oct. 14, when Vinatieri had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
After signing with the Colts, Stover received a congratulatory text message from Harbaugh.
"We have a mutual respect," Stover said. "We developed an immediate relationship and we got to the AFC championship together."
This season, Stover is 6-for-6 on field goals and kicked the game-winning extra point in Sunday's 35-34 win over the New England Patriots.
"There is nothing I can do to change an organization's mind about what direction they want to go in," Stover said. "I told them that I would come back to play for them at some point if they wanted me to, but I've moved on to the Colts and I'm doing what's best for me and my family."
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is the only player left from the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team after Stover was not re-signed. Lewis said it would be "awkward" to see Stover on the other sideline.
"He's one of the better men that I've ever been around my whole life," Lewis said. "He's a class guy. You know that in clutch times, Stover is always going to be there."
Players used to refer to Stover as "Automatic Matt" because of his reliability. He kicked 19 game-winning field goals for the Ravens and was 24-for-24 in the fourth quarter from 2006 to 2008.
Some wonder if Stover's clutch kicking will come back to hurt them Sunday.
"Hopefully, he won't kick a game-winning field goal," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I might have to go out there and trip him."
While Stover is with the Colts, his home remains here. He tries to return to Baltimore on his days off to see his wife and three children. He even learned that Hauschka was cut Tuesday when picking up his kids from school.
Stover also rooted for the Ravens when he watched them play Monday night at Cleveland.
"I want nothing but good things for the Ravens," Stover said. "It's good to see the guys playing well. I want them to win ... except this week."
Still, is Stover's return a cameo at M&T; Bank Stadium? Or could Stover eventually find his way back here?
There is a chance that Vinatieri could be fully recovered in a few weeks, which could lead to the Colts' releasing Stover. If Stover becomes available, the Ravens might consider bringing him back.
Harbaugh seemed extremely open to re-signing Stover.
"If we could have Matt here, we would have Matt here," he said.
Asked if he would ever rule out playing for the Ravens again, Stover said, "No, no, no. As long I have a competitive spirit and can still kick a 52-yard field goal, we'll see what happens."
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 13
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