February 17, 2007
Stover: Examining life through ‘uprights’
For Stover, the gesture is not merely symbolic, neither is it the type of theater that dominates so much ofthe game. Baltimore’s most famous foot is also the property of an outspoken man of faith who is deeply committed to his beliefs.
While Stover’s attraction to sports came at an early age, his faith life was much more protracted. Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church, Stover said his early relationship with God was anything but a committed one.
“I had an open- and closed-door policy with God,” Stover told The Examiner. “I opened it when I needed him and I closed it when I didn’t.”
In 1992, Stover’s wife signed them up for a family life conference. It was a turning point that defined him and reshaped his spiritual outlook.
As he’s grown as a NFL player, the challenges of the game help to keep the kicker grounded even when his game is not.
“There’s a very high pressure atmosphere [in the NFL],” Stover said. “Miss a few field goals and you can be cut tomorrow.” For many players, such anxiety is part of football. Coping with these realities is where Stover said his faith becomes a critical component of his individual identity.
“When I do it on my own, I’m not very successful. I haven’t played for Matt Stover in years. If you’re doing it for your own glorification, it ends up being empty. When you do it for Christ he puts you in a position to allow your testimony to reign for years to come.”
Challenges also come on a personal level. In the NFL locker room, tempers flare and tensions run high.
“The NFL will tear you apart,” Stover said. “I’m the first one to go to a person and say I’m sorry. I’ve asked guys to forgive me. I tell them not to validate Jesus and the reality of who he is on my life. But I strive to be like Jesus on a daily basis.”
And what of his legacy? For Baltimore fans who believe his hall of fame status is certain Stover thinks perspective is key.
“I want all those grown men who come up to me years later to say ‘I remember when you gave your testimony to the church’ or ‘I remember when you pointed up. Whether good or bad, you still pointed up.’ How I affect people eternally is what’s important.”