Walter Bahr during a 1950 World Cup reunion in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1987. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Walter Bahr, the last surviving member of the U.S. national team that upset England in the 1950 World Cup, passed away Monday.
He was 91.
Bahr died Monday in Boalsburg, Pa., from complications from a broken hip, according to granddaughter Lindsey D. Bahr, a film writer for The Associated Press.
While Bahr enjoyed a long career in soccer on and off the pitch. He is best known as one of the 11 members of the American team that stunned England, 1-0, and the rest of the world in Belo Horizonte, Brazil June 29, 1950. In fact, he was the player who set up Joe Gaetjens’ goal that decided the match in the 37th minute.
Bahr took a throw-in from Ed McIlvenny and sent the ball toward the goal that Gaetjens headed past goalkeeper Bert Williams.
“We are all saddened by the loss of Walter Bahr, a true legend in soccer in the United States,” U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said in a statement. “His contribution to one of the most iconic moments in U.S. Soccer history was only part of a lifetime of selfless contributions to the game. As a coach, a mentor, a friend, and a colleague, Walter touched the lives of so many people in our sport, ensuring a legacy that will last for generations. Our thoughts are with his family and all those who were impacted by this extraordinary man.”
He played 19 times for the U.S. as a midfielder, scoring once. He also represented the Red, White and Blue at the 1948 Olympics in Lodnon.
Born April 1, 1927, Bahr played amateur, semi-pro and professional soccer. As a pro, he helped the Philadelphia Nationals to four American Soccer League championships in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1955 before earning another ASL title with the Uhrik Truckers in 1956.
Al Miller, who directed the Philadelphia Atoms to the 1973 North American Soccer League championship, played against Bahr in the Philadelphia leagues.
“He was a helluva player,” Miller said. “He was solid. just tough to play against. Great defender. Anticipated well. Read the game beautifully. Hard, tough. and skillful on the ball. Pretty skillful for back in those days for an American. Back in those days, you would go out and beat each other’s brains out on a Sunday afternoon and then you went to the clubhouse and drank a few beers and had a good German meal.”
After retiring, he pursued a coaching career, first at the amateur and semi-pro level and then at Temple University (1970-73) and Penn State University (1974-88). He guided the Nittany Lions to the NCAA tournament 12 times.
His three sons were involved in soccer. Two, Chris and Matt, wound up as NFL placekickers. Chris Bahr played for the Philadelphia Atoms during the 1975 North American Soccer League season and won rookie of the year honors. Another son, Casey, represented the U.S. at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
“If you could pick your dad, he would be the kind of dad you would want to pick,” said former U.S. Soccer general secretary and CEO Hank Steinbrecher. “He set such an example for all of us. Just to get to know him and hang around him. He was really modest, as funny as he could be. Loved a good laugh. Completely dedicated to what he was doing. He was a very, very good player. Look at his sons. They say like father, like sons. He’s got some great boys who have done some great things.”
Bahr had other “sons” as well. Many of them were his players who learned lessons from the coach, some easy, some hard.
“The thing that I remember most is that he made me a better person,” said Jim Stamatis, the 1979 MAC Hermann Trophy winner who played at Penn State from 1975-79. “He held me accountable with the way that I played, the way that I dressed, the way that I spoke, the way that I behaved. If it came down to me missing an event or being late, he probably was harder on me than anybody else. I guess he wanted to make an example of me. These were the types of things that he kept doing that made me a better person. when you think of today’s coaches, you think of [Duke University basketball coach] Mike Krzyzewski, who does those type of things with their players. They build men as opposed to building just players. John Wooden was the same. With Walt, I felt I entered as s somewhat of an immature [person] and I am hoping I came out as a more thoughtful mature man, in addition to being a better player.”
Bahr is survived by his wife of 71 years, Davies, four children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Funeral plans were immediately known.