Very early on in the 2008 season, my first covering the Ravens, I walked up to Matt Stover in the locker room before a mid-week practice, and nervously asked if I could interview him.
Perhaps noticing the shakiness in my voice, the longtime Ravens kicker smiled, pulled up a stool adjacent to his, and told the young reporter in front of him to have a seat.
Ravens fans will remember Stover, who retired yesterday after 20 NFL seasons, for his countless made field goals, many of which came in key situations. But he'll also be remembered for the kindness and generosity that he showed in his dealings with the Baltimore community, qualities which were made evident to me in my first conversation with him that day in the Ravens' locker room.
With Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh seated beside him, Stover stepped away from the NFL Thursday afternoon, saying that he was comfortable with the timing of his decision.
"No regrets," a smiling Stover told reporters. "I gave it all I had, everything I had, and I can look back to that (and know) I tried everything I could to be the best I could be."
In his time in the NFL, Stover established himself as one of the top kickers to ever play the game, finishing with the fourth-most career points (2,004) and seventh-best field goal percentage (83.7) of all-time. He missed just one extra point attempt in 403 chances, made 13 game-winning kicks, and connected on a whopping 84.9 percent of kicks outdoors, a number which is particularly impressive considering the cold-weather cities and rough field conditions Stover often battled, playing in the AFC North.
Stover didn't have the strongest leg around, especially late in his career, but what he lacked in ability to boom field goals and kickoffs, he made up for in field goal accuracy.
The now-42-year-old also appeared in two Super Bowls, and was a key contributor in the Ravens' run to the 2000 Super Bowl title, connecting on many a clutch kick on an offensively-challenged team which had issues reaching the end zone.
"We don't win that Super Bowl that year, without Matt," Bisciotti said. "To win two of four games where you don't score a touchdown, is something that I don't think will ever be repeated in the NFL. Baltimore might be still searching for the first their Super Bowl if it wasn't for (Stover) and what (he) accomplished at that time when our offense was struggling."
Stover's second Super Bowl appearance came in 2009, as a member of the Colts. The Ravens had decided not to re-sign Stover prior to that season, opting to look instead for a kicker with a stronger leg. Stover signed with Indianapolis mid-season, and went along for the ride to an AFC Championship.
Stover insisted that he's not at all bitter that the Ravens didn't retain him toward the end of his career, saying that his final kick in a Ravens uniform - a game-winner against the Titans in the divisional round in 2008 - was the perfect note on which to go out.
"To end my career with the Ravens like I did with a game-winning field goal to help us get into the AFC Championship, that was more gratifying to me," Stover said. "It was no problem that it was time to move on."
Beyond his on-field achievements, Stover was a constant fixture in the Baltimore community during his time with the Ravens. Oftentimes, his charitable work went on behind closed doors, without much fanfare, and he continues such work today through his foundation, as well as a company which helps professional athletes with the transition after their careers are over.
While Stover announced he was stepping away from the game yesterday, the Ravens had an announcement for him, as well; Bisciotti said that Stover will be inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor on Nov. 20 at M&T Bank Stadium when the team plays the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Being a part of the Ring of Honor (means) I meant so much to my team, to the community," Stover said. "That to me is just an awesome, awesome privilege. I cannot imagine a greater honor that an organization can give to a player, and I appreciate the Ravens for doing that.
"I'll be proud to do it - to go retire as a Raven and to be up there with some other great players."