Despite what you may think, being an NFL kicker is not an easy job. Even the quarterback can put blame on others—maybe the guard missed his block or the receiver dropped a wide open touchdown. For a kicker though, once the snap is made cleanly, all the pressure falls on him.
Former Ravens kicker Matt Stover thrived under this pressure. During his 19-year career with four teams, he appeared in two Super Bowls, winning a ring with the 2000 Ravens (and another while on IR as a Giants rookie) while converting 471 of 536 career field goal attempts, to become the 5th-leading scorer in NFL history. We caught up with Matt to get an inside look at the life of an pro kicker, his latest business venture, and most importantly, his Ravens being back in the Super Bowl.
TDdaily: Since you’ve gone through the Super Bowl experience, what’s this week leading up to it like? Are you savoring every minute of it or are you ready to get to the game?
Matt Stover: You’re savoring it because you know how hard it is to get there. If you’ve seen a team that’s struggled to get there, it’s the Baltimore Ravens and I’m proud that they’ve stayed together this year to get themselves there. It’s really becoming very much of a business trip for these guys. They’ve learned—I think Ray [Lewis] and the guys have put it into the young guys, ‘Hey let’s take this, let’s not regret it, lets take care of business,’ because this is the biggest trip. Have a little bit of fun doing it, but focus. That’s exactly how you’ve got to take it.
TD: When you get out onto the field, is it like every kid imagines playing in the backyard?
MS: It is, it really is. This is the world’s stage and you know that. But what you have to do is put that aside and treat that game like any other game. If you don’t, you’re going to find yourself overreacting to certain plays and doing things you normally wouldn’t do. You want to play inside your talent and abilities, keep yourself in the same game mode that you’ve been in since you began the season, and depend on those guys next to you.
TD: Routine is such a big thing for kickers. Does the Super Bowl throw that off, with the longer halftime and things like that?
MS: Absolutely. What you have to really do is visualize. You know how you hear golfers talk about visualization? You have to visualize yourself and that’s where experience comes in. The veteran guys have a jump on the younger guys. The veterans on the team have to share exactly what it takes to get yourself focused before the game because it is a huge difference between a normal regular season game and the Super Bowl. Just the planning, the pregame, the 6:02 start—all that makes a big difference.
TD: If routine is one big part of kicking, you’d have to say the other part is confidence. How easy is it for a kicker to lose his confidence and then what can you do to get it back?
MS: Well, I think it’s how you develop confidence as a kicker and that comes from how you prepare. No. 1, you have to prepare like you always have. You get yourself ready how you prepare all year long. Justin Tucker and David Akers understand what it takes to get ready for a game because they’ve been doing it all year. Don’t change anything, go to with your same mindset, go out there and execute, and depend on the guys around you. That’s how you prepare and that develops confidence.
TD: You mentioned David Akers and he’s been having a tough stretch, between missing some field goals, having Cundiff brought in to give him competition, and then missing again in the playoffs. As a fellow kicker, what’s your take on the situation? Do you have to just look at it like another game, like you’ve been saying?
MS: You do, but he’s also dealing with an injury, which is another bag of worms. You know when you swing a golf club, if you have a jammed wrist, it’s going to make you hesitate a little bit and make you question it. What I know David is doing is developing that confidence in his swing and what he’s doing on a daily and weekly basis to get himself feeling as good as he can so that he can go into the game and execute. I know his character, he’s a guy of high moral character and he’s doing everything he can to get ready so that he knows he can make those field goals. As for Justin Tucker, he needs to stay in his routine. He needs to keep himself very focused and not have too much going on this week. Knowing the veterans on that team, that’s what he’ll be doing
TD: Switching teams, you were on the field and in the locker room with Ray Lewis. What’s he really like to be around as a teammate?
MS: He’s the last gladiator. He’s the general, the Maximus and I’m very proud to say I played with him. He is a guy, who since then, has gone up to Joe Flacco before the game in New England and said, ‘Lead us, Joe Flacco, lead us. You’re the general.’ A lot of people didn’t take that to heart, but I said that to you and it sent chills up my spine because I called him my general. Here he is, in the last weeks of his career, leaving a legacy. He’s passing the torch to the guys after him. That is a true leader, somebody who is saying it’s not about them. When you’ve got that, it’s an amazing, amazing person. I can’t speak more highly of a person who is willing to do that. I was always trying to do the same thing with the guys that came in under me, such as Sam [Koch] and Matt Katula. He just shows leadership and his ability to come back, like he did with this tricep, is just amazing.
TD: Switching gears, you’ve been involved with the Players Philanthropy Fund. Could you just explain what it is and what it aims to do?
MS: It’s very simple, but it’s like ‘Oh wow, I didn’t even know that existed.’ What it does is it takes away the layer of management that a lot of players try to do with their own foundations. What we try to do is simplify it to protect the player and their brand while creating a fund for them and whatever they want to do. Once they get their money into it, they have the ability to direct where those funds go afterwards and not have the legal and financial responsibilities anymore. We developed it—when I say “we,” I also mean two partners of mine: Emil Kallina, who was our chief counsel, he wrote the charter to the IRS and then Seth McDonnell with Waverly Management, who came in as an administrator. Between the three of us, with me being the marketing side of it, we are doing a phenomenal job of assisting players, such as Ed Reed, Pam Schriver, Ben Grubbs, and several other guys who have come in as our beta testers. Now we’re taking it national and I felt like it was a great time to launch it with the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl.
TD: What made you want to get involved with this project? Did you have any personal experience with teammates mismanaging money or asking you for financial advice?
MS: Oh, huge amounts. In fact, I’ve been involved with the players union as a player rep for 16 years. My personal involvement fund came back when I sold a company back in 2006 and what happened was Emil Kallina came in and said ‘Look, when you sell the company we need to think about how you’re going to get the money that you’re going to get and the best way to do it. You can save money and it takes the responsibility off of you for managing it.’ So we used that advice with the National Christian Foundation in 2006. After that Emil and I and Seth were all friends and partners and said ‘why don’t we develop it?’ So Emil got some player in our account and we have been able to manage them. It’s much cheaper than what they can do on their own and it releases them from legal liability. They can keep their same brand, too. So if it’s the Ed Reed Foundation, the Matt Stover Foundation, whatever it is, they can still work under that with the money being managed by another fund. It just makes everything cleaner and when they find out about it, they go ‘oh that’s great, I know it can’t be mismanaged now.”
TD: We can’t let you go without asking, so what’s your pick for the Super Bowl?
MS: I think it’s going to be an exciting, fun game to watch. You’ve got two quarterbacks with two different styles in Kaepernick and Flacco and two teams with very good defenses. I think the team that doesn’t make the mistakes will be the one to win. I believe it’s going to be a pretty high scoring game because Flacco is playing well and has so many weapons to use of his offense. I believe the Ravens are going to score 31 and the 49ers will score 21. That’s my pick.
Joe Kozlowski is an editorial intern for TDdaily. Follow him on Twitter @koz2393.