The life of a kicker in the NFL is filled with “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” moments.
If the kick is made, the kicker is hailed as a hero; if the kick is missed, the kicker is scorned as a loser.
For 19 NFL playing seasons, kicker Matt Stover regularly delivered “the thrill of victory” for his teams.
From 1991 to 1995, Stover kicked for the Cleveland Browns.
While Stover’s Browns career was prematurely ended when the franchise relocated to Baltimore, his outstanding performance over his five seasons with Cleveland still makes him one of the best kickers in Browns history.
We’re Matt Stover days until the Browns kickoff the 2018 season. (1991-1995) pic.twitter.com/yY3T0mli3K
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) September 6, 2018
We take a look at the life of Matt Stover – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
John Matthew Stover was born in Dallas, Texas on January 27, 1968.
Stover grew up in the “Lake Highlands” neighborhood in Dallas.
Football was important to Stover even at a young age.
“Ever since the first grade, football was a big part of my life. When I was eleven, I was a Punt, Pass & Kick champion. . . . The dream of my life was to become a professional football player.”
He attended Lake Highlands High School in Dallas.
At Lake Highlands High School, Stover was a wide receiver, a kicker, and a punter.
Stover won All-District honors as both a wide receiver and a kicker.
During the 1985-1986 season, Stover kicked a 53-yard field goal.
Future Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson also attended Lake Highlands High School.
Stover received a scholarship from Louisiana Tech University.
After graduating from Lake Highlands High School in 1986, Stover headed to Ruston, Louisiana to attend Louisiana Tech.
Stover was a four-year letterwinner at Louisiana Tech from 1986 to 1989.
In 1986, Stover made 21 out of 25 field goal attempts.
For his play in 1986, Stover made the All-Southland team.
Louisiana Tech (playing in the Southland Conference) posted a 6-4-1 record in 1986.
On October 31, 1987, Stover kicked a 57-yard field goal, in a 32-3 Louisiana Tech loss to Texas A&M.
It was the longest field goal in Louisiana Tech history.
In 1987, Louisiana Tech (then playing as a Division I-AA independent) had a 3-8 record.
Stover made 15 out of 23 field goal attempts in 1988.
Louisiana Tech had a 4-7 record (again playing as a Division I-AA independent) in 1988.
Stover made 15 out of 20 field goal attempts in 1989.
For his play in 1989, Stover made the All-South Independent team.
In 1989, Louisiana Tech had a 5-4-1 record (then playing as a Division I-A independent).
In discussing the importance of his time at Louisiana Tech for his subsequent NFL career, Stover stated:
“That all goes back to college and the experience I got against some big-time teams as we made the move up to Division [I-A]. Because I kicked all four years, my learning curve and experience from big games taught me a lot about the kind of pressures I would handle for years in the NFL.”
During his career at Louisiana Tech, Stover made 64 out of 88 field goal attempts.
For part of his time at Louisiana Tech, Stover also punted.
In describing Stover, Louisiana Tech head coach (in 1988 and 1989) Joe Raymond Peace said:
“To me, he’s the best kicker of all time on either the college or pro level. . . . [H]e made some big kicks for us – some long kicks. . . . But his best attribute was his consistency. Accuracy was never a problem for Matt. . . . For a kicker, and I don’t say it loosely, Matt was very intense and passionate about the game. His success came from that intensity and the fact that he was willing to do whatever it took to get his mind and body right. He was one of the best players – let alone kickers – under pressure I’ve ever seen or been around.”
At Louisiana Tech, Stover majored in marketing.
After graduating from Louisiana Tech in 1990, Stover continued his football career in the NFL.
The Pro Football Years
Stover was drafted by the New York Giants in the 12th round of the 1990 NFL draft.
He was the 329th overall pick.
Although the Giants won Super Bowl XXV after the 1990 season, Stover was on injured reserve (because of a quadriceps injury) and did not play in any regular season or playoff game.
On March 15, 1991, Stover signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns.
For Stover, signing with Cleveland and its new coach in 1991, Bill Belichick, was a key moment in Stover’s football career.
“Belichick I owe my career to. I know he wasn’t really liked in Cleveland, but as he’s proven he’s a pretty darn good coach. . . . I’ll say this, Bill had a plan, and I was a part of that craziness.”
In 1991, Stover (playing at a height of five feet and 11 inches and at a weight of 180 pounds) became the kicker for the Browns, playing in all 16 regular season games.
On September 1, 1991, Stover scored his first NFL regular season points, as he kicked two extra points, in a 26-14 Browns loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
On September 15, 1991, Stover kicked the winning field goal from 45 yards with four seconds left in the game, as the Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 14-13.
After the game, Stover stated:
“If you don’t want to kick that football to win the game, you shouldn’t be a place-kicker. You’ve got to go out there and tell yourself that you want this kick.”
For the 1991 regular season, Stover made 16 out of 22 field goal attempts and 33 out of 34 extra point attempts.
Cleveland had a 6-10 record in 1991.
Stover again played in all 16 regular season games in 1992.
In the 1992 regular season, Stover made 21 out of 29 field goal attempts and 29 out of 30 extra point attempts.
The Browns had a 7-9 record in 1992.
In 1993, Stover again played in all 16 regular season games.
Stover made 16 out of 22 field goal attempts and all 36 extra point attempts in the 1993 regular season.
In 1993, Cleveland again had a 7-9 record.
Stover again played in all 16 regular season games in 1994.
In the 1994 regular season, Stover made 26 out of 28 field goal attempts; his 92.9% field goal accuracy percentage led the NFL.
He also made all 32 extra point attempts.
Stover was named second team All-Conference by United Press International in 1994.
Cleveland made the playoffs as a wildcard team in 1994, with an 11-5 record.
In describing the 1994 season for the Browns, Stover stated:
“The 1994 team, we really found ourselves, all the hard work had really paid off. We had a good, good formula, offensively we were good to a point, and defensively we were very strong. 1994 was the NFL’s 75th anniversary, too, I recall that being a big deal, and we had a patch on our jersey, and that’s the jersey I actually have framed in my basement. I have a big picture of my pointing up, I always pointed up good or bad, and it’s of me in my Browns jersey in that 1994 season.”
Cleveland played the New England Patriots in a 1994 playoff game on January 1, 1995.
Stover kicked two field goals, from 30 yards and 21 yards, and two extra points, as the Browns defeated the Patriots 20-13.
Cleveland then advanced to a 1994 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 7, 1995.
Stover kicked a 22-yard field goal, but the Browns lost to Pittsburgh 29-9.
In 1995, Stover again played in all 16 regular season games.
For the 1995 regular season, Stover made 29 out of 33 field goal attempts; he ranked third in the NFL with an 87.9% field goal accuracy percentage.
He also made all 26 extra point attempts (not missing an extra point attempt for the third consecutive year).
The Browns had a 5-11 record in 1995.
During the 1995 season, Cleveland owner Art Modell announced that he was relocating the franchise to Baltimore for the 1996 season.
The “old Browns” were to become the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.
Stover’s third extra point against Jacksonville on December 24, 1995 was the last point scored by the Cleveland Browns in their original form.
In recalling the move from Cleveland to Baltimore, Stover said:
“That was horrible. The Cleveland Browns moving? You’ve got to be kidding me. I had a very good year in 1995. I think I was alternate to the Pro Bowl. So I didn’t let it affect me professionally. Personally, it affected me because I had a brand new baby. And we had just gotten pregnant again in the middle of that season, and we had to go to Baltimore. I had just signed a new contract in August. They’d signed all those players so that when they did move, they would have to go with them. In October, I went, ‘Omigosh.’ It was a four-year deal. When we were negotiating in August my wife did say, ‘You should have a no-move clause in there.’ My wife has these intuitions. Me and my agent laughed.”
Stover ultimately had an outstanding career over 13 seasons in Baltimore with the “old Cleveland Browns/new Baltimore Ravens” team.
He missed only one regular season game from 1996 to 2008.
Six times with Baltimore, Stover was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week – after kicking the game-winning 50-yard field goal in a 34-31 Baltimore win over the Cincinnati Bengals on November 21, 1999, after kicking five field goals in a 22-0 Baltimore shutout of the Bengals on December 26, 1999, after kicking five field goals (and scoring all of Baltimore’s points) in a 15-10 Baltimore victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 8, 2000, after kicking the game-winning 39-yard field goal in a 13-10 Baltimore win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 4, 2001, after kicking the game-winning 44-yard field goal in a 16-13 Baltimore defeat of the Steelers in overtime on November 20, 2005, and after kicking five field goals in a 22-3 Baltimore victory over the St. Louis Rams on October 14, 2007.
Three times with Baltimore, Stover was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month – after kicking 12 field goals (including one game-winning field goal) over four games in September, 1997, after kicking eight field goals over four games in November, 2000, and after kicking nine field goals (including one game-winning field goal) over three games in September, 2006.
In 2000, Stover led the NFL, making 35 field goals.
Stover was invited to the Pro Bowl and named first team NFL All-Pro in 2000.
He was also named first team All-Conference by the Associated Press, Pro Football Weekly, the Pro Football Writers of America, and Sporting News.
In 2006, Stover led the NFL, with a 93.3% field goal accuracy percentage (making 28 out of 30 field goal attempts).
Stover was named second team All-Conference by the Associated Press in 2006.
From 1996 to 2008, in regular season games with Baltimore, Stover made 354 out of 418 field goal attempts and 402 out of 403 extra point attempts.
Stover’s kicking also helped the Ravens make the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006, and 2008.
The Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV after the 2000 season.
In 11 playoff games with Baltimore, Stover made 16 out of 19 field goal attempts and all 22 extra point attempts, including two of three field goal attempts and all four extra point attempts in Super Bowl XXXV.
Stover signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts during the 2009 season.
With the Colts in 2009, he made 15 of 18 field goal attempts and all 40 extra point attempts in 13 regular season and playoff games (including one of two field goal attempts and both extra point attempts in Super Bowl XLIV).
After not playing in the 2010 season, Stover retired from the NFL on May 26, 2011.
He was 43.
Stover was the last member of the “old Cleveland Browns” to play in the NFL.
The Years After the NFL
Stover married Debbie.
They have three children, Jenna (born in 1995), Jacob (born in 1996), and Joe (born in 2003).
After his NFL retirement, Stover has been involved with various charitable-related activities.
Stover was a co-founder of the Players Philanthropy Fund.
— Amy Bennett (@AEBsocial) September 4, 2019
According to its website:
“Players Philanthropy Fund (PPF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity that enables athletes, entertainers, corporations and individuals to create a dedicated fund that can accept tax-deductible contributions in support of any qualified charitable mission. . . . PPF’s vision is to empower philanthropists through sound best-practiced-based philanthropic education, facilitation and inspiration to make a positive impact on causes and communities in need.”
"I am proud to have played 18 NFL seasons with the @browns/@ravens. 14 of those seasons, Art Modell was the owner. I am grateful to have played in two wonderful cities with amazing fans." Matt Stover, Co-Founder of PPF pic.twitter.com/1XM48rxewV
— PPF (Players Philanthropy Fund) (@PlayersPhilFund) November 7, 2018
Stover has also been active with the Matt Stover Foundation, which does charitable work in the Baltimore community, including with programs that benefit underprivileged children.
In 2011, Stover was inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame.
Even though Stover was a member of the Cleveland Browns for only five seasons, he still ranks high in Cleveland career regular season kicking records.
Stover ranks fifth in Browns career regular season field goals made (108), tied for second in Browns career regular season “50 or more yards”-field goals made (4), second (among kickers with at least 50 field goal attempts) in Browns career regular season field goal accuracy percentage (80.6%), fifth in Browns career regular season extra points made (156), and second (among kickers with at least 50 extra point attempts) in Browns career regular season extra point accuracy percentage (98.7%).
While Stover spent most of his career in Baltimore, his longest NFL regular season field goal was the 55-yard kick he made with Cleveland in 1991.
Any review of Stover’s career with Cleveland must take into account the move by the Browns to Baltimore in 1995.
Had the Browns stayed in Cleveland, and Stover’s statistics that he accumulated from 1996 to 2008 been accrued for the Browns rather than the Ravens, Stover generally would rise to the top of Cleveland career regular season kicking records.
His 462 regular season field goals made from 1991 to 2008 would have ranked first in Browns career regular season field goals made, his 13 regular season “50 or more yards”-field goals made from 1991 to 2008 would have ranked second in Browns career regular season “50 or more yards”-field goals made, his 83.7% regular season field goal accuracy percentage from 1991 to 2008 still would have ranked second (among kickers with at least 50 field goal attempts) in Browns career regular season field goal accuracy percentage, his 558 regular season extra points made from 1991 to 2008 would have ranked second in Browns career regular season extra points made, and his 99.5% regular season extra point accuracy percentage from 1991 to 2008 still would have ranked second (among kickers with at least 50 extra point attempts) in Browns career regular season extra point accuracy percentage.
In terms of Stover’s contribution to team success, it should be noted that Phil Dawson did an outstanding job “replacing” Stover as kicker for the “new Cleveland Browns”, beginning in 1999.
However, in terms of Stover as an individual, while Stover already is one of the best kickers in Cleveland Browns history, if the Browns had not relocated to Baltimore in 1995, Matt Stover arguably would have been the best kicker in Cleveland Browns history.