This 17-year NFL vet came from a family that was REALLY good at kicking
As part of this weekly (hopefully) segment, I'd like to put a spotlight on an athlete who led an interesting life or career, yet is largely unknown by the average sports fan today.
An NFL placekicker is the most thankless and undervalued position in the league. You play well and the media and fans pass it off as ‘doing your job,’ but if you miss the yellow uprights they want your head. It’s an unfairly tough position in the NFL, as there is always pressure on the kicker and job security is almost nonexistent.
Look at Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh, who holds several NFL records, but missed a game-winner against the Seahawks in 2015. Since missing that field goal on that arctic afternoon game, he’s been released and cut from several teams and is struggling to find a home. There are many more stories similar to Walsh’s, but on the flip side, there are stories of long-term success like that of Matt Bahr, who booted balls for 17 years in the NFL.
Matt Bahr grew up in Pennsylvania and is the son of Walter Bahr, a member of the 1950s US World Cup squad and one of the best US soccer players of his generation. Matt is also the younger brother of Casey and Chris Bahr, who played in the 1972 and 1976 World Cup, respectively. Oh, and Chris Bahr kicked in the NFL as well. Not surprisingly, Bahr followed in the footsteps of his brothers and was a standout soccer player; placekicking was only something he dabbled in at Neshaminy High School.
In the years prior, his older brother established a system in which they would practice with the football team on Tuesday nights and only play in the actual games on Friday. Soccer came first. After a great high school soccer career, he went on to become an All-American soccer player at Penn State in the mid 1970s. Soon after, in 1978, he was drafted into the NASL...the what?
The North American Soccer League - the highest professional league in the States at the time, which also happened to be very popular in the late 1970’s, averaging around 13,000 fans per game. Bahr played for the Colorado Caribous and then the Tulsa Roughnecks in the 1978 season. Bahr was traded to Tulsa, which shocked him, as it was the first time he realized the business side of professional sports. Sadly, this diminished his enthusiasm for the game.
He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 6th round the following year. Now with a distaste for pro soccer, he opted for a chance in the NFL where salaries were higher and there was more job security, AKA leagues not falling apart. After seeing his older brother Chris find success as a soccer-to-NFL placekicker convert with the Bengals, as well as poor management in US pro soccer, this looked to be the right move.
In his very first game, he had an opportunity to win it in regulation and missed the extra point. Bahr says, “my first NFL game could have been my last,” if not for redemption in overtime when he punched a 41-yard field goal through the uprights to win the game. Later that season, Bahr and his teammates would win Super Bowl IV 31-19 against the LA Rams. He went from a professional soccer player to an NFL champion in a year, unheard of except in the Bahr household - his brother would be crowned an NFL champion in next year's Super Bowl.
Posting a career FGM percentage of 72.3, Bahr was a very accurate kicker over his 17-year career. This percentage, combined with his longevity, puts him at #29 on the all-time list in scoring. There is one glaring red flag when looking at his career, and that is his second season with Cleveland in 1982, when his kicks were good only 46.7 percent of the time...but it’s Cleveland so it was probably someone else's fault. The majority of his career was spent with the Browns, who were .500 or below for his first five seasons. His best year was the one that followed his abysmal 1982 season; he nailed 87.5% of his kicks in '83, leading the league.
The Browns would turn things around in the mid- to late-80s. After four winning seasons, the team cut Bahr in the 1990 preseason. He would soon be picked up by the big, bad New York Giants. He had a solid stint with the Giants, where fans best remember him for his heroics in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. He set an NFC Championship Game record by nailing five FGs, one of which was a 42-yard game-winner as time ran off the clock to give the Giants a 15-13 victory, ending San Francisco’s bid for a 3-peat. Later, in Super Bowl XXV, he would kick the go-ahead field goal to put the Giants on top 20-19.
What’s even more impressive when looking at Bahr’s career statistics is how lethal he was in the postseason. Bahr converted 84 percent of his field goals and was good on 98 percent of his extra point tries in the postseason; better than kicking god Adam Vinatieri (granted, Vinatieri played in more postseason games). Bahr would play a couple more seasons with the Giants and then find homes with the Eagles and Patriots, before retiring after the 1995 NFL season.
Despite a prolific career that included two Super Bowl rings, playoff heroics, and 1,422 points, he was never a Pro Bowler. That is why we don’t want you to forget the game, or the name, of this All-American and professional soccer star, postseason hero, Super Bowl champion, and 17-year NFL kicking ace, Matt Bahr.