On January 20, 1991 in the playoffs following the 1990 season, the Giants were on the road in Candlestick Park against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Niners featured talent such as QB Joe Montana, LB Bill Romanowki, WR Jerry Rice, FS Ronnie Lott, OG Guy McIntyre, RB Roger Craig, and DE Charles Haley. The winner would be catapulted into Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. The Giants had won the NFC Eastern Division with a 13-3-0 record whereas the 49ers were the league’s best team at 14-2-0.
The two clubs had already faced off in December at Candlestick during the season, a 7-3 49ers victory. In that contest the Giants had more time of possession, more first downs and fewer penalties, but could not score in the Red Zone except for a 20-yard Matt Bahr field goal.
And now, here they were again – about to square off to represent the NFC against a Buffalo Bills team that had clobbered the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game. The 49ers had won the Super Bowl the last two years and were looking to become the third team to capture three NFL titles in a row. Only the Green Bay Packers have won three consecutive NFL championships in a row, from 1929-1931 and again from 1965-1967.
In this NFC Championship Game, the Giants were the second-best rated defense while the 49ers were the third-best defense. San Francisco kicker Mike Cofer and Bahr traded field goals in the first and second quarters for a 6-6 halftime score. The Niners opened it up in quarter three with a 61-yard passing score from Montana to WR John Taylor. After Bahr added a 46-yard FG, going into the final stanza the home team was up 13-9.
The 49ers defense was just a stout as the Giants defensive front that day and was a struggle for both offenses. Bahr added a 38-yard FG and then a 42-yarder to finish off San Fransicso 15-13 in one of the most memorable Giants’ games ever played. Next up was the Super Bowl.
In the two games against the high-flying 49ers that season, Matt Bahr had become the only Giants’ player to accumulate any points.
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 (1972) and Chris (1976). All three sons eventually played professionally in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s. Beginning in 1980, the NASL began to experience financial problems with the recession, player union contract disputes, and overspending.
Matt won a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 and later with the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.
Big Blue View caught up with Matt at his home in Pittsburgh where he lives with his wife Maresa of 35 years of marriage to see about his experiences with the Giants, what he does for a living now, and why the game of soccer has held such a dominant place in his life.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: After the Steelers, you played for San Francisco and then spent almost a decade in Cleveland. What do you see lacking in today’s Browns that has made them so horrible for so many seasons now?
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.
BBV: How did you end up with the Giants in 1990 after being in Cleveland all those years?
BAHR: Head coach Marty Schottenheimer had gotten the Browns to the playoffs four straight seasons including two AFC Championship games and was fired. 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 Jeff Hostetler and long snapper Steve DeOssie and after I hit a dozen balls Coach 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.
BBV: 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 the area and things like the museums and other things you can only see in New York City.
BBV: 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.
BBV: Mike Sweatman was the Giants special teams coach with Charlie Weis the assistant ST coach. Did Mike treat you like a seasoned veteran or just a temporary replacement guy until injured kicker Raul Allegre was ready?
BAHR: Mike was hung-ho to make the special teams one of the best in the league. He knew I had years in the league and kicked for the Browns for nine seasons plus played three other years. So, he treated me like I knew what I was doing and that I could recognize wind patterns and make adjustments during games.
BBV: That 1990 season the Giants had a very good club at all positions and went 13-3-0. After beginning the year 10-0-0 was there talk that maybe that team had a shot at going undefeated?
BAHR: Each week our only concern was the game ahead. At that time, the 49ers were the team to beat in the NFC and the Bills were dominant in the AFC. Every player knew that those were the best teams no matter how many games we had won.
BBV: You kicked five field goals for the Giants in the NFC Championship Game to beat a 49ers club that had lost only two games all year. How did you feel after that game and is that like the greatest day ever for a kicker?
BAHR: That was a great game on both sides of the ball. We needed every play to win. There were so many great plays on both sides by both teams. A field goal is the most team-oriented play in football. The entire offense has to drive down the field to get into field goal range. You have to have nine good blocks, a good snap, an equally good hold, and stop a heated rush to get the kick off and into the air. And think about it: it is 11 players against nine on that play every time. I have always chuckled when an announcer will say, “All he has to do is kick the ball.” I had a good game that day but not without the proper help to succeed.
BBV: The Giants lost to the Buffalo Bills during the regular season, and then the Bills killed the Oakland Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game. Did the locker room have the feeling that the Bills were that much better than the Giants and perhaps didn’t have a chance in the upcoming Super Bowl?
BAHR: The coaches had a positive approach all week, which was a short-week. Part of the motivation for us was the fact that the 49ers had already set up team headquarters down in Tampa prior to the NFC Championship Game against us. So, we were told nobody expected us there anyway. And yes we knew Buffalo had a potent offense. Only two times during that season were the Bills held to under 20 points in a game.
BBV: That Super Bowl 25 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 Pepper Johnson and Lawrence McGrew 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.
BBV: The Giants were losing 12-10 at the half. Was the atmosphere in the locker room pleased that the defense had kept the high-scoring Bills to just 12 points, or was there a mood that Buffalo was just about to explode offensively in the second half?
BAHR: The atmosphere was professional. We had to keep grinding the clock so that Buffalo’s offense would stay off the field. We had to keep their offense from scoring. There were so many great plays like when (QB Jeff) Hostetler hung onto the ball when Bruce Smith held his wrist in our own end zone.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: What if we were to tell you that we have magic powers at BBV 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: 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.
BBV: What were some of your fondest memories of being with the New York Football Giants?
BAHR: The professional atmosphere of the sport. And Wellington Mara would come into the locker room after every game and shake your hand and have something to say to you as a player. His sons reflected his professionalism, too. The Mara’s are very much like the Rooney’s (Steelers) and I was fortunate to have played for both. They treated everyone with courtesy and could be seen at almost every practice as well as games. And of course being with the other players whether you won or lost. Games build character in a man’s life which he carries with him after the game.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association