Walter Bahr, last player of the iconic 1950 US national team, dies at 91

Walter Bahr, an American soccer legend and the last surviving member of the famous 1950 US men's national team, died on Monday.

He was 91.

Bahr, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, had the assist on Joe Gaetjens’ goal that propelled the US to a shocking 1-0 upset over England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

“It was the goal of a lifetime,” Bahr told MLSsoccer.com leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. “You just don’t know that at the time.”

Bahr, who grew up in Philadelphia, was a member of the 1948 Summer Olympic team, and along with teammate Harry Keough, became the first U.S. player to appear in qualifiers for three different  FIFA World Cups (1950, 1954 and 1958). But it wasn’t until later in his life that his legend grew, with Bahr saying nobody even knew about the 1950 upset  when he returned to Philly from Brazil, where his teaching job was waiting for him.

“The odd thing is I would guess in the first 25 years after 1950, I didn’t get two requests for an interview,” Bahr said four years ago. “But as the World Cup grew in stature, each year I would get more and more calls.”

Bahr, along with the entire 1950 World Cup team, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976. Actor Wes Bentley portrayed Bahr in the 2005 movie "The Game of Their Lives," focusing on the USA's 1950 World Cup squad.

Walter Bahr, left, joins MLS commissioner Don Garber, former vice president Joe Biden and former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter at Lincoln Financial Field before the first-ever Philadelphia Union home game in 2010. | Philadelphia Union

Bahr, though, always carried with him a strange feeling of guilt about the iconic victory.

“It’s a funny thing, but I still remember this,” he said. “I was happy and enthused and whatever, but I’m not one for big celebrations. I’m sure I shook some hands and got some pats on the back. But I was thinking going to the bus that I didn’t know whether to feel happy for us or feel sad for those poor English guys. How are they going to explain a defeat to a 500-to-1 underdog?”

Bahr played professionally for the Philadelphia Nationals, leading them to American Soccer League titles in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1955, and winning another ASL title in 1956 with the Uhrik Truckers. He coached the Philadelphia Spartans and Philadelphia Ukrainians, before coaching collegiately at Temple (1970-73) and Penn State (1974-88), guiding the Nittany Lions to 12 NCAA Tournament berths in 14 years.

All three of his sons, Chris, Casey and Matt, played professional soccer and, remarkably, Chris and Matt both won Super Bowls as NFL placekickers, using lessons of humility from their dad along the way.

“I think even if he played today, you’d never see him celebrate a goal,” Chris Bahr told MLSsoccer.com in 2014. “He enjoyed playing sports, and he let other people tell him if he was good.”

Walter Bahr, who remained in central Pennsylvania after retiring from Penn State, is survived by his wife of 71 years, four children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

"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."