Matt Bahr grew up a soccer player in Langhorne, Pennsylvania and is the son of Walter Bahr, one of the best soccer players the United States has ever produced. Walter played for the 1950 U.S. World Cup squad as did Matt’s brothers Casey ( WC 1972) and Chris (WC 1976). All three sons eventually played professionally in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s. Beginning in 1980, the NASL began to experience financial problems with the recession, player union contract disputes, and overspending.
Matt played for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1979-1980), San Francisco 49ers (1981), Cleveland Browns (1981-1989), New York Football Giants (1990-1992), Philadelphia Eagles (1993) and the New England Patriots (1993-1995). He won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 1979 and later with the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.
Dawgs By Nature caught up with Matt at his home in Pittsburgh where he lives with his wife Maresa of 36 years of marriage to see about his experiences with the Browns, what he does for a living now, and why the game of soccer has held such a dominant place in his life.
DBN: At Neshaminy High School growing up, you were the kicker on the football team but you only practiced on Tuesday nights and played in actual games on Friday nights. How did you get the job as kicker and how did you arrange that practice schedule?
BAHR: My brother Chris established the system. Most colleges I had looking at me were recruiting me to play soccer and also kick for their football team.
DBN: You were an All-American playing college football at Penn State and set four major college records while earning an engineering degree. Did you choose this school because it was in-state or were you considering other offers?
BAHR: I had an appointment with the United States Naval Academy, but prior to the next season their soccer coach retired, so I accepted the Penn State offer. Brown and UCLA were also in the mix.
DBN: Growing up in a soccer family, which of you three brothers had better foot skills and which was the better defender and which acted like he got fouled on every possession?
BAHR: Chris was the play maker and goal scorer. My other brother Casey was the best defender. He was quick and reliable and was drafted by the Yankees. I was what was generally referred to as a journeyman player. Ball winner, occasionally scored goals, kept it simple and could contribute to any team. No one took dives – ever. It would be disgraceful and dishonorable.
DBN: Right after college, you signed with the Colorado Caribous of the North American Soccer League. What was that experience like, and how did you find out you had been traded to the Pennsylvania club?
BAHR: Pro soccer sadly was a job and the NASL was mostly worldwide pros extending their careers at that time. My enthusiasm diminished with this real world reality.
DBN: You were selected in the sixth-round of the 1979 NFL draft by the Steelers. Was it a difficult decision to pursue pro football rather than pro soccer?
BAHR: The decision from pro soccer to football was easy. I loved playing the game of soccer, but the NFL offered stability and a better opportunity to make more money. The NASL had many issues.
DBN: During the off-season, while playing for the Steelers you worked at Westinghouse. Was this because at the time pro football did not pay enough or did you simply want to further your engineering career, or perhaps was your wife sick of you being around the house all day?
BAHR: The decision to continue football versus engineering was difficult. So, it was football in the fall/winter, engineering in the spring/summer, and grad schools at night throughout the year. Being there for the family was just as important.
DBN: In your very first NFL regular season game against the Patriots, Sidney Thornton scored a touchdown for the Steelers from two-yards out and they sent you out for the extra point – your first real kick in an NFL game. What happened next, and then what also happened involving you in overtime?
BAHR: My first NFL game could have been my last. I missed my first kick which was an extra point. We went into overtime and called a time out for me to go out and kick a field goal to win the game. (Linebacker) Jack Lambert came over to me during the time out and said, “We have all the confidence in the world in you.” I go on to make a 41-yard field goal to win in my first NFL game.
DBN: After the Steelers, you played for San Francisco and then spent almost a decade in Cleveland. Before this season began, what did you see lacking in today’s Browns that had made them so horrible for many seasons?
BAHR: Since the Browns have come back into the NFL as an expansion team, I don’t know if they have established team tradition. You have to have team tradition with the ownership group, the coaching staff, the trainers and everyone who works with the team. There is a certain character that must be formed and is something different than what I have seen from them in the past years.
DBN: What were some of your first experiences with Cleveland?
BAHR: Sam Rutigliano was the Browns’ head coach when I got there in 1981. I replaced an icon with them in Don Cockroft. I hadn’t been in the league that long and suddenly I am hired to replace this legend in the city that made him successful and had been with the same team since he became a pro. A lot of eyes were on me, here this kid, now with his third club. But once they saw me connecting in practices everyone accepted me as the new guy.
DBN: What were some of the highlights while playing for Cleveland back in the day?
BAHR: The year before I got there the Browns were a playoff team and everyone expected the same. But in the first four years I was there we had only one year over .500 in 1983 and we won four of our last six to get that. I hit over 87% of my kicks that year and led the league.
DBN: What are some memories of old Memorial Stadium?
BAHR: The west side was so far from the field and would sometimes be real quiet, but the other end the people would be right there on you. As long as you were wearing a Browns uniform you were good, but I felt for anyone trying to kick for any other team. And even if you missed a kick you were supposed to make in that end, they would let you know that they were not pleased. The stadium was old and had nails for coat hooks.
DBN: Rutigliano was fired after the 1984 season and the Browns hired Marty Schottenheimer. What are some of the differences between the two men?
BAHR: While coaching the Browns Rut had been named Coach-of-the-Year twice, so it wasn’t like he forgot how to coach. Marty was completely different, though. Very organized is the best description of him, lots of energy, a very good defensive mind and cared a lot about the defense as he was already the defensive coordinator so he knew the players. Players had great respect for him, for his passion for not only the game but for the City of Cleveland. But when the Browns drafted Bernie Kosar the offense began to take shape.
DBN: You played for the Browns during those very good Schottenheimer teams that won two of three division titles and lost in the AFC Championship Game twice. What are some of those memories?
BAHR: You practice all year and run all those sprints and guys lift weights and practice in the heat to get to where we got. Each year during those times, something oddball happened. It was devastating each time. We had a cast of talented players on both sides of the ball each of those years. We were one of the league’s best teams, and yet just didn’t get it done. It hurt for all of us, and it hurt that we didn’t get it done for the City of Cleveland.
DBN: How did you end up with the Giants in 1990 after being in Cleveland all those years?
BAHR: Schottenheimer had gotten fired despite all the success. So when new coach Bud Carson came on board and we lost another AFC Championship game, after one season with him he said they wanted to go in a different direction. So, I was out of work. The Giants’ kicker Raul Allegre was injured after three games and only had rookie Matt Stover on their practice squad. I was invited for a tryout. They had their holder quarterback Jeff Hostetler and long snapper Steve DeOssie and after I hit a dozen balls Coach Bill Parcells asked if I would like to kick some more and I told him what he just saw was pretty much it. He chose me on my performance and then signed me.
DBN: Do you still keep up with Schottenheimer?
BAHR: He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, so communication with him is difficult. He did attend the 1986 Browns reunion in 2016.
DBN: In New York did you stay at a house or an apartment, and did you bring Maresa and your children to stay with you during the season?
BAHR: That first season I assumed I was just a temp player so I rented a hotel room. Once I became the regular kicker I rented a house. I always brought my family to live with me. Living in the New York area opened up a whole new world for them. We loved Cleveland, and enjoyed new things like the museums and other things you can only see in New York City.
DBN: How was Giants’ head coach Bill Parcells different than Browns’ head coach Marty Schottenheimer than Steelers’ head coach Chuck Noll?
BAHR: Noll was a renaissance man and did a lot of different things. He was also very stoic and didn’t open up much. Schottenheimer was a great organizer and never got the credit for making the Browns relevant again. Parcells was the guy who pushed everyone’s buttons the right way. All three had one thing in common in that they just wanted to win football games.
DBN: That Super Bowl 25 with the Giants was right in the middle of the Gulf War and tensions were high. Were you able to have any fun or even focus while down in Tampa leading up to the game; and did the league do any special security precautions that week like station linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks in the hotel hallway?
BAHR: We felt pretty safe at the hotel, I don’t remember anything as far as extra security. At the stadium they had snipers up high, though. Howard Cross wore yellow arm bands, which the NFL was not happy with. We had a lot of experienced players that had been on a Super Bowl team before - myself included - and knew what to expect. Parcells was cognoscente of the job he had to do. He would tell us to focus on the job at hand and leave all the game hype alone.
DBN: You scored the first points of the game and also the last points with a 21-yard FG with 7:32 left in the match. Did you watch when Scott Norwood set up for the winning kick and what was your immediate reaction?
BAHR: I felt bad for him. Before the kick I was hoping for a bad snap or a loose hold so that the kick would not be good. But that was a long kick on grass and he didn’t have that many games on grass that year. It is a different surface you have to deal with.
DBN: As a kicker, and as a kicker in the NFL, what words would you say to Norwood after that missed game-winning field goal and did you actually talk to him afterward?
BAHR: I don’t recall if I did see him and said anything. I would have told him to keep his head up.
DBN: What if we were to tell you that we have magic powers at DBN and can trade in your two Super Bowl rings for you being on one World Cup Championship roster. Would you do it?
BAHR: That is apples and oranges.
DBN: A favorite trading card of ours is an Upper Deck football card of you making a tackle against the Rams. Most kickers tend to get out of the way but you were fearless and made lots of tackles during your career on special teams. Your thoughts?
BAHR: I felt I was part of the team and had to do whatever the team needed me to do while on the field. Any kickoff is not 11 players versus 10. I was proud that I had two tackles in the Super Bowl for the Giants.
DBN: You are an electrical engineer for Ultra Sports Academy in Pittsburgh. What are your job duties and what type of industry does the company serve?
BAHR: That was a company I set up when I got a contract to do the engineering for a multi-sports complex in Pittsburgh that had a lot of playing fields. It is 80 flat acres.
DBN: You graduated from Penn State with an engineering degree. How did you get interested in the engineering field and why has it been your passion all these years?
BAHR: I was always good at math and liked it. I found out I liked the magic of electrical engineering and researched high-paying jobs and it ranked third most. So, I pursued that field and have always enjoyed being involved with projects. I also knew playing football was not going to last forever and wanted to make sure I used the other talents I was born with.
DBN: Other than contracts and money, how is the NFL different today than when you played?
BAHR: My rookie season there were 2-3 practices with heavy hitting and six preseason games which are now down to four. Now, they put on pads once a week and aren’t hitting at full speed. The nutrition and healthcare are far more superior today and first-rate. There are better facilities, better equipment and I hear they actually give you water breaks now. I remember the Browns’ visitor locker room had nails for the visiting team to hang their clothes on. The stands were so far away from the field because the stadium was built for the 1932 Olympics which the city did not get and was basically a baseball stadium. Stadiums today are like nothing else and have so much to offer not only the players but anyone who buys a ticket.