OWINGS MILLS – Matt Stover used to point both hands toward the sky after every field goal, a salute to his faith.
It became a familiar tradition in Baltimore as Stover sent the football sailing through the uprights with uncanny accuracy.
"I think it was a center point, it was always bigger than me," Stover said. "It wasn’t about Matt Stover. It was about the guy up there."
Now, the Baltimore Ravens’ all-time leading scorer is officially walking away from the game as he announced his retirement Thursday after two stellar decades in the NFL.
A former Pro Bowl selection who provided much of the offense for the Ravens’ Super Bowl championship team, Stover, 43, leaves the game as the fourth-ranked scorer in league history with 2,004 points and 471 field goals.
"No regrets," Stover said during a press conference at the Ravens’ training complex. "I gave it all I had. I can look back at that and say I did all I could to be everything I could be."
Stover ranks seventh in NFL history in field goal accuracy with an 83.7 percent success rate.
Sharp in the clutch, he connected on 13 game-winning kicks.
And Stover once hit 36 consecutive field goals, the third-longest streak in NFL history.
He missed only one of his 403 extra points with the Ravens.
"I had a coach tell me early on that reliability is more important than athletic ability," said general manager Ozzie Newsome, noting how Stover would routinely beat out challengers like Joe Nedney, Robbie Gould and Rhys Lloyd. "Matt has probably been one of the most reliable Baltimore Ravens we’ve had in this franchise. We did bring people in to compete with Matt.
"I mean, we would complain about the kickoffs, we would complain about the distance on his field goals, and we would bring in some pretty good kickers to compete with him. Not only was he reliable, he was very competitive."
Stover will be inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor on Nov. 20 at M&T Bank Stadium when the team plays the Cincinnati Bengals, assuming the NFL labor dispute is resolved.
Stover kicked for the Ravens for 13 years after spending the early portion of his career with the original Cleveland Browns before they moved to Maryland.
"Being a part of the Ring of Honor means I meant so much to my team and community," said Stover, who has converted 336 field goals since 1996 for the most in the league during that span. "That is 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’ll be proud to do it – to go retire as a Raven and to be up there with some other great players."
Stover last kicked for the Indianapolis Colts two years ago as an injury replacement for Adam Vinatieri, making a field goal in the Colts’ Super Bowl loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Stover connected on 471 of 563 career field goals, making 354 of 418 attempts with the Ravens and connected on 402 of 403 extra points.
He’s the Ravens’ all-time leading scorer with 1,464 points.
During the Ravens’ Super Bowl season, Stover scored all of their points during a five-game stretch where the offense failed to score a touchdown.
In that cold stretch for a struggling offense, Stover scored 49 consecutive points.
"We don’t win that Super Bowl that year, without Matt," owner Steve Bisciotti said. "To win a Super Bowl, when you can’t score a touchdown in October, is quite a remarkable feat. To win games where you don’t score a touchdown, is something that I don’t think will ever be repeated in the NFL. We’re allowed a little hero worship around here in Baltimore with our kicker, because it’s tangible."
Following the press conference, Stover said that defensive players would actually instruct former coach Brian Billick to kick the field goal on third down.
They had that much confidence in Stover, and that little belief in a one-dimensional offense quarterbacked by Trent Dilfer and carried by rookie running back Jamal Lewis.
"It’s third down and I’m hearing the defense on the bench yelling, ‘Kick it! Don’t go for it, just kick it!" Stover said. "When you’re an athlete like that and you know the design of the game plan every week, to me that was fun. I was at the prime of my physical ability. ‘Give me the ball, coach.’ I was rolling.
"That stretch with regard to building character on the team, it defined us. It showed the offense, ‘Don’t be a hero.’ Just maintain ball control, field position, give us enough points and we would win. It just defined the offense, defined the defense and I was doing my job. It catapulted us throughout November and December. Then, we just leaned and leaned on that defense."
At the end of that historic season, Stover booted a 47-yard field goal against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
It staked the Ravens to a 10-point lead.
"What was going on in the locker room prior to the game was the defense called out the offense and they said, ‘You get us 10, we win. All we need is 10,’" Stover recalled. "To an offense, that’s pretty cool. That’s letting the reins out pretty easy. A minute and 58 seconds left [in the half], I’m lining up for a 47-yard field goal. When I’m trotting out onto the field, I hear from Rob Burnett, ‘We get 10, we win, Stove.’
"I said, ‘Gee, thanks for the extra pressure, man.’ And we hit it. We got the 10 points and we were in the locker room at halftime, and they said, ‘We got it. It’s over.’ And it was, it was over. So, that was the most memorable kick that I ever had."
A former New York Giants 12th-round draft pick in the 1990 NFL draft, Stover signed with the Browns in 1991 as a Plan B free agent.
He left the Ravens as a legend.
"He’ll be revered in this town for as long as people talk about football," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Every time I walk in the stadium, I’ll see his name up there in the Ring of Honor, and I’ll be hoping our kicker kicks just as well as he always did."
After one season kicking for Harbaugh, the Ravens didn’t re-sign Stover.
They were thinking that Steve Hauschka would be their long-term kicker and were concerned about Stover lacking distance on his kickoffs.
The Hauschka experiment was a total failure as he lacked Stover’s ability to concentrate in the clutch, sailing his kicks wide left and costing the Ravens games.
"It was especially hard when I saw kicks sailing wide left during the season," Harbaugh said. "That just shows you the value of him. It makes the difference in winning and losing games. His leadership is missed, his making field goals was really missed."
Not every kicker can handle the mental aspect of the craft, including recovering from an errant kick.
"There’s going to be some misses in there," said Stover. "You understand that that’s part of it and do everything you can in preparation to not miss that field goal. So when I go out there and if I miss one, there’s no regret. There’s regret with respect that didn’t perform well.
"But there’s no regret in the fact that I didn’t do everything I could to make it. From a guilt perspective, it was gone. I looked it square in the eyes and didn’t want to do it. We all have bad plays. You get it off of you and you move on as quickly as you can."
Stover remains busy with his charitable foundation, a company helping professional athletes with their transition after their careers are over as well as his involvement in Evoshield, which makes protective wear for athletes.
"Is Matt Stover bored at home?" he said. "No sir, I’m not. In fact, my wife says I’m busier now than when I was playing. I think that’s a good thing."
From holders like former Ravens punter Kyle Richardson to recently retired trainer Bill Tessendorf and the cafeteria staff, Stover thanked virtually anyone connected to his career in any way.
He made a special point of singling out his wife, Debbie, and the rest of his family.
As his high school sweetheart, Debbie Stover was one of her husband’s first holders.
"We prayed a lot, because most of those things were out of our control, the weather, the snaps and holds and all those conditions," Debbie Stover said. "It definitely got my heart rate up for sure. There were a lot more makes."