Matt Stover played 13 seasons as a professional football place kicker for the New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. In 2009, he was the third most accurate kicker in the history of the National Football League (NFL), even bringing home a Super Bowl championship when he played for the Ravens. In 2011, Stover was inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.
Matt Stover was a kicker in the NFL for 19 seasons, most notably with the Baltimore Ravens. Stover was inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor in 2011 and is a two-time Super Bowl champion.
The mission of his organization, The Matt Stover Foundation, is to provide financial support to under-funded educational, religious and other charitable organizations. He is also co-founder of the Players Philanthropy Fund, an organization that enables athletes and others to create charitable funds for the causes they are passionate about.
Stover agreed to an interview with Biblical Recorder correspondent Roman Gabriel III about faith and leadership. What follows is edited for clarity and length.
Q: You were not only a great kicker and Super Bowl champion, but also a team leader. Is that rare for place kickers?
A: Roman, when you look back at my career over 20 years, one of the things I tried to do as a leader was know my teammates’ stories. I tried to know where they came from, so I could empathize. I could minister to them in different ways. These guys have struggles like everyone else, and you can be a beacon of hope for them in the locker room.
Q: Has that changed for you after football?
A: It’s what I do every day with the Players Philanthropy Fund. I’m helping and assisting them with their foundations if they don’t have one. They can come inside the Players Philanthropy Fund and operate as if they have one. There are hundreds of great athletes out there doing great work. It’s like that all the way across the league. To learn their stories and hear about their faith, family and football is very encouraging.
Q: Was your faith always strong over your entire career?
A: No. At the beginning of my career, my faith was very superficial. It wasn’t deep nor intimate. When I was kicking for the Browns, I was really caught up in the NFL career and needed to change my priorities. I decided to put God first. I was married, so my marriage and my faith came first over football. When I understood where the priorities should be, it gave me freedom.
I don’t think a lot of people understand that the freedom to fail is so empowering. It gives you the ability to perform at a level you would never think of. As an athlete, if your identity is tied up in your career only, and things don’t go well, you’re going to get paralyzed and you’re not going to perform. That’s where my faith and my family – my priorities – became such a big issue.
Matt Stover meets Roman Gabriel III during media days at a recent Super Bowl.
Q: Who were the men that were instrumental as mentors for you during your football career?
A: Brian Hansen, who spent 18 years with the Cleveland Browns as a punter. I met him when he was 10 years into the league (32 years old). He had a family, and he gave me a beacon, a light to see what it was supposed to be. What a faithful guy he was, as a husband and father. And then I understood where my faith needed to go.
Q: Who showed you the way spiritually inside the football world?
A: I was very challenged at the beginning of my career by our team chaplain. He really showed me how to share my faith and connect with players. He modeled that in his life.
When I was with the Ravens, it was Joe Ehrmann. He showed me exactly how to do it. He was a mentor of mine for four years. He went on to be a great mentor,
to write several books to assist high school and college football coaches to be faithful in their training of players.
The best thing I could do at the time was walk around the locker-room and be exactly who I am, not trying to be somebody I wasn’t. In return, my teammates paid attention to how I lived my life.
Q: Can you think of an example where that played out?
A: Yes, my first time on Monday Night Football, I missed all three of my field goal attempts. We lost the game. I took it, then went back to work, and only missed one more field goal the whole year.
My teammates look back on that and say, “Wow, you showed me a lot about your faith” – the way I handled myself in a positive manner. Those are the stories you remember. Handle yourself in the right way, earn the right to speak and know the other players’ stories so you can speak truth into their situation. From there, you’ve got an opportunity to be influential for the rest of their lives.
(EDITORS’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit the Faith Family Sports website: fspn.net. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. Visit his website: soldout-tv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: [email protected].)