Matt Stover: Equal the Same Importance of Ray Lewis for the Ravens, If Not More (via Bleacher Report)

Matt Stover

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is without a doubt the greatest player in the franchise’s history. For at least a decade, Lewis was the most feared linebacker in the NFL, with hosts of admirers – from both active and former players – for his ability to intimate, drop back into coverage to play the pass, to play and stop the run, and to pressure the quarterback when called upon.

Probably, the important aspects of Lewis which allows him to be beloved and respected is due to his commitment to study the game of football by viewing film of opposing teams and players, his ability to motivate and of course, to lead.

Fortunately for the Ravens, Lewis has been healthy for the majority of his career and if he is not on the field, Baltimore fans would mentally plan for a lost.

Matt Stover was the Ravens’ kicker for 13 seasons and, similar to Lewis, he was just as important for the Ravens franchise due to the lack of offense generated by the team during the 2000’s. During Stover’s tenure with the Ravens, faced with the team’s offensive woes, is there an argument that “Money Matt” was just as important as Lewis – if not more?

“I’m not a true football player; I’m a kicker,” said Stover in his retirement press conference on May 26. “The perception of kickers on a team as not true football player.”

In terms of running, hitting, throwing, and the types of workouts to sustain the ability to perform on the football field, which requires an amazing physical standard to perform on the game’s highest level, kickers are not considered as football players.

However, the kickers’ mentality is, or at least should be, similar to the men in the trenches. Stover’s approach was similar to Lewis on game day, as number 52 wants to take on all challenges and oppose his will on his opponents, while the sure-footed number 3 wanted the ball – especially when the game was on the line.

“I was kicking for something that was bigger than me (his wife and his support system), and that really took a lot of the pressure off me,” said Stover when asked about his approach to kicking.  “Knowing that it was a privilege to say, ‘Hey, coach, give me the ball,’ and I’m out there with the ball. That was always my mantra, ‘Give me the ball, coach. I just want the ball.’ If you don’t want it as a kicker in the NFL, you shouldn’t be out there.”

For a player in Lewis’ position, as for other positional players, multi-tasking is not an option with pressure from all angles.  For a kicker, there is only one thing needed to be done—just kick the ball.  But is just kicking the ball that simple?
Football players get the all the glory for their performance, as they deservedly so.  Kickers are only honored for made field goals, that’s it.  Apparently, kickers do not want the pads from opposing teams to crush or wrinkle their flesh and bones nor want to lift weights or participate in any other extreme physical exercise in order to perform on the field.  And for the abundance of the jokes and criticisms kickers get from their fellow colleagues, fans and the media, none of them wants the job of a non-football player in pads.
“I’ll never forget Mike Flynn looked at me one time and just gave me the hardest time out there on the field: ‘You kicker this, and you kicker that.’ Then all of sudden, I’m lining up in Cincinnati for a 50-yard game-winning field goal, and I smoked it,” said Stover.  “And he looked at me like, ‘Dude, I will never make fun of you again. I have no idea how you just did that.’ Really, the respect comes from performing as a kicker, and after you do that for a while—it took me six years though—and in Cleveland and here, but eventually you get the respect, and that’s a lot of fun.”
Similar to the difficulties of playing in the NFL, kicking the ball is just as tough.  The position of the kicker was not initially instituted as a role when the game was started in 1869.  Not until Hall-of-Famers George Blanda, Paul Hornung and Frank Gifford, the kicking position was a duel role for special players in the 1960s.  However, the increase amount of injuries, leg fatigue and the different techniques needed to be successful in kicking for points ultimately led to the necessity of the kicker position.
So, why should Stover be considered Lewis’ equal, regarding the Ravens?
Since 1996, the year Baltimore received another NFL franchise via Cleveland, Stover missed only one extra point (in 1996),  but spanning from the post-Vinny Testaverde era, 1996-1997, to the Flacco era, 2008-present, Stover missed 64 field goals off 418 at 84.6 percent.  Teams that possessed a solid kicker had the luxury of knowing when the game was on the line their specialist would deliver.  For the Ravens, getting to their opponent’s 30-yard line was viewed as reaching the goal line because Stover would put some points on the board.
As essential as Lewis’ presence on the field to lead his defense to shutdown opposing offenses, Stover’s field goals were dyer for an offense that performed as if they were constipated—in terms of scoring.  Lewis had to face complex offenses highly skilled athletes, led by great minds of the league such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to name a few.

Stover's signature lean.

Stover had to face a more difficult opponent, the elements, no matter if the wind was blowing behind him, against him or from side to side.  Sure, Lewis had to face the elements as well, but controlling about 250 lbs. in winds of 10 to 12 miles per hour or more is easier than angling and kicking an egg-shaped ball weighting 14 to 15 ounces through unpredictable winds is a huffy task while being pressured by big bodies attacking.

During the Ravens’ Super Bowl season in 2000, the Ravens went four games without scoring a touchdown.  For as many field goals Stover made, Lewis and his defense had something to play for, which resulted into a league title.  The 2000 Super Bowl season was the year Stover had the most field goal attempts in a single season at 39, nailing 35, which was also a career season high (including going for two out of three from 50 yards or more.  Perhaps without the sure foot of Stover, the Ravens may have not earned a trip to the postseason to won it all then.

“It’s funny, in these last couple of years when we hear fans that are critical of what we can’t do to win a Super Bowl, when you can’t score a touchdown in October, is quite a remarkable feat,” said Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti as he address Stover.  “I’ll never forget the 15-10 [victory] in Jacksonville. To me, that was on the road, to win a game 15-10 [and] to win two of four games where you don’t score a touchdown, is something that I don’t think will ever be repeated in the NFL.

“And I can go back to that and say that Baltimore might be still searching for the first their Super Bowl if it wasn’t for you and what you accomplished at that time when our offense was struggling.”

When the Ravens released Stover in 2008, he went to sign with the hated Indianapolis Colts to replace the injured Adam Vinatieri.  Stover’s greatness and appreciation from Baltimore fans was evident when he stepped on the field to kick wearing the betrayal blue and white uniform and the people in M&T Bank stadium gave a lasting cheer to the two-time Pro Bowler who was choked up and got emotional, but he still made the kick.
Stover will be honored on Nov. 20, as his name will be place on the Ravens’ Ring of Honor versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lewis is one of the greatest NFL players of all-time with Canton to become his finally destination to seal his playing career.  Stover’s greatest honor may just be having his name place within M&T Bank Stadium, but he help fueled Lewis and the defense to perform well because Stover consistently gave them a reason to play hard.
“The thing about being in the Ring of Honor is that I meant so much to my team, to the community,” said Stover.  “That to me is just an awesome, awesome privilege. I cannot imagine a greater honor that an organization can give to a player, and I appreciate the Ravens for doing that. I did say that earlier, and I’ll be proud to do it—to go retire as a Raven and to be up there with some other great players.”
League wide and through NFL history, Stover will not be echoed like Lewis, but for the Ravens’ organization, “Money Matt” is just as great and as essential to No. 52 and probably more—quietly.

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