Matt Bahr has been out of the NFL since 1996, when then-Patriots coach Bill Parcells cut the 17-year veteran at the end of training camp in favor of a promising rookie.
Bahr was on the last Super Bowl-winning team of the 1970s, his field goal and four extra points helping secure the final championship for Chuck Noll’s dynastic Steelers, who defeated the Rams in Super Bowl XIV.
Bahr also was on a Super Bowl-winning team in the 1990s, his two field goals helping Parcells’s Giants upset the heavily favored Bills in Super Bowl XXV in January of 1991 just a week after his fifth field goal of the game, as time expired, upset the similarly vaunted 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
In other words, Bahr enjoyed a heck of an NFL career, a young soccer star out of Pennsylvania trading in one pair of cleats for another and turning into one of the game’s all-time pressure kickers.
But that was a long time ago. Bahr is closer to retirement than to his playing days. At 63, he’s only four years younger than current Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Yet as Belichick went looking for a new kicker this week, eventually signing veteran Mike Nugent Thursday, Bahr’s name suddenly popped up across social media, spit out by any reliable search engine that was asked for the recent history of Patriots kickers.
With the news that Stephen Gostkowski was headed to injured reserve, Belichick needed a replacement. For most teams, that simply means another turn in a revolving door. For the Patriots, however, the position has been remarkably stable.
For all the hand-wringing over Gostkowski’s uncharacteristic shaky start this year — four missed extra points, a new holder, and an operation that has been anything but smooth — Patriots fans pushing him out the door might want to be careful what they wish for. Life without him could be far scarier.
Sometimes, those fans forget how good they’ve had it. Take a moment to consider: Only three people have kicked for New England since Bahr was cut.
Three kickers from 1996 to last week’s win in Buffalo.
And that includes Shayne Graham, who filled in for just eight games in 2010 when Gostkowski was injured.
Gostkowski, a constant here since 2006, took over after Adam Vinatieri left for Indianapolis, and all Vinatieri had done was kick the Patriots to three Super Bowls, along the way making perhaps the toughest kick in NFL history when he beat the snow and the Raiders in a 2001 divisional game. He’d paid far more dividends than anyone could have imagined when he won the job in 1996.
By beating out Matt Bahr.
“Parcells fired me for Adam,” Bahr said over the phone from Pittsburgh, a slight laugh coming through as he remembered his 2½ years in New England, the last stop on a career that took him from Pittsburgh to Cleveland and New York, with brief visits to San Francisco and Philadelphia in between.
He certainly didn’t want to be fired, but even he would find it tough to quibble with the decision.
“Adam has proven himself to be one of the truly great kickers of all time who will be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot,” said Bahr. “That goes without saying. I think the world of him.
“One of the things about Parcells and then later on when Belichick came back, is they’re always looking at the ‘now’ and the future. If a player can help them win one game now, he’s going to be on the team.”
Vinatieri, 46, is still kicking, a brief contemplation of retirement after a shaky start to this season seemingly forgotten as he continues his 14th campaign with the Colts.
Meanwhile, the Patriots’ selection of Gostkowski in the draft a month after he left has proven to be a decision almost as wise as the Vinatieri one in 1996.
With a stronger leg for kickoffs (as well as field goals) and better (youthful) prospects for dealing with the harsh New England weather, Gostkowski turned out to be the right fit. But the fact that Vinatieri has continued to be so darn good in the friendlier indoor confines of Indianapolis is a credit to a Patriots scouting department that found both players.
“New England can be a tough place to kick when weather goes south,” Bahr said. “Especially tough given the potential conditions toward the end of the year. They’re mudders, and that’s a good thing.”
For Bahr, the Patriot memories are nothing but good, though newspaper accounts of the time reveal how tough it was for Parcells to send him packing.
“He’s the best kicker I ever had, but that’s only incidental how I feel about him personally,” Parcells told the Hartford Courant. “There are very few players, but this is one of them, where your personal feelings are involved. When a guy has done what he’s done in football and directly affecting my coaching the way this player has, it’s not without some pretty strong emotions.
“Matt Bahr made a tremendous number of pressure kicks. He made as big a kick as there ever was in this league, I think. And he made several game-winners. He’s just a dependable guy and a true professional.”
At the time, Parcells could only hope he’d made the right decision in going with Vinatieri.
“We’ll see how he responds,” he said. “I’ll be interested to see how things go for him from here on out.”
Vinatieri was similarly circumspect. “I know I have some pretty good shoes to fill,” he said then.
He did just fine. So has Gostkowski. From one to the other, an amazing run of stability.
Gostkowski is expected to return for the 2020 season, so maybe the run continues. But for now, Nugent is the next kicker up. Around the Patriots, that’s been a rare occurrence, as Bahr, all 63 years of him, reminds us.