Stover's loyalty to friend lands him in Indianapolis

By Steve Ginsburg

MIAMI (Reuters) - When kicker Matt Stover showed off the Super Bowl ring he earned with the New York Giants in 1990 to his Indianapolis Colts team mates they were startled.

The beauty of the diamond-encrusted ring had nothing to do with their reaction.

"Some of the guys yelled, 'Whoa, I was three years old during that one!'" Stover told reporters Tuesday during the NFL's annual media day run-up to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

"When you look at my age and the fact that I'm still kicking it tells you that God's handprint is all over this," he said. "This team looked through the age and saw my ability."

Stover's path to Indianapolis began in the offseason when he could not work out a deal with his former team, the Baltimore Ravens. So he began looking for a job when the New York Jets called.

The problem was that his vacation buddy Jay Feely was trying to keep his job with the Jets, who had just hired former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan as their new coach.

"Jay Feely and I are very close friends," said Stover. "I felt I needed to take the high road and not get in the way of something that he was trying to work out with that organization.

"I would have loved to play for Rex, but only if Jay wasn't going to be their kicker."

So Stover stayed in shape during the offseason and waited by the phone. A month into the season, it started ringing.

COLTS CALL

One day after a tryout with the Giants, the Colts called looking for a replacement for the injured Adam Vinatieri.

"They committed to me," he said. "I wanted them not because of the money but because they wanted me to be their kicker. If Adam was going to come back, they still committed to me even through that."

Stover, the league's oldest player, responded to their pledge by hitting nine of 11 field goals and all 33 of his extra point attempts. His steady showing has kept Vinatieri, a four-times Super Bowl champion, on the sidelines.

A 20-year NFL veteran and one of the league's all-time steadiest kickers, Stover is helping mentor the Colts' younger players.

"Most of my mentoring comes off the field," said Stover, who has made 84 percent of his 563 NFL field goal attempts. "Also, the other players see how hard I work. It's not like I'm just a kicker, even though I am.

"I work extremely hard in the weight room. I take care of business. I make sure that I'm focused each and every practice. I try to be perfect, as well as I can, so that when it comes time to play I'm ready to go."

The soft-spoken and deeply religious Stover, who is five-for-five in field goals attempts this postseason, would love to earn a third Super Bowl ring to go with ones he earned in 1990 and in 2000 with the Ravens.

He admits the pressure of the game is intense.

"If you've ever had a 10-foot putt for 100 dollars with a close friend, multiply that by 1000 and that's what it's like," he said with a laugh.

(Editing by Justin Palmer)