Matt Bahr on kicking the Giants to a championship while ‘dinged up’

Bahr's game-winning kick against the 49ers. ()
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Another data point on how concussion awareness has evolved, and the tangled web between head injuries and everything that has ever happened on a football field: It turns out that Matt Bahr was suffering the after-effects of a severe concussion when he kicked the game-winning field goal that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl in 1990.

Yesterday, at a charity golf tournament, Mark Bavaro said of Bahr at the time of the kick, “I don’t think he knew where he was. He’d tackled somebody on a kickoff return earlier in the game and he was kind of out of it.”

This morning, I called Bahr, who now lives in Pittsburgh and coaches soccer, to confirm the story.

He said he actually suffered the concussion the week before, against the Bears, while making a tackle on a kickoff. He wasn’t clear-headed for the remaining two games of the season.

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“I think they called it ‘You were dinged up,” he said. “Way back when, you had to be knocked out [for concussions to be taken seriously]. And I know I was woozy and dinged up. And one of the doctors was joking that they had to hang around me all game with one of those ammonia capsules.”

“But again, my memories are fuzzy—that may be a symptom,” he said, joking. “You’re talking a real long time ago, with a person who's traditionally in a fog anyway.”

Other than the “I’m old and out of it” self-deprecation common to men his age, Bahr professes to have no after-effects from what he said were multiple concussions. He also harbors no bitterness.

“I’ve never really thought about it," he said. "Back then, nobody really thought about it. [The Giants] wouldn’t put me in harm’s way by any stretch."

After Bahr took what he thinks was a knee to the head the week before, Giants doctors feared he had broken his neck. Their first X-Ray seemed to confirm this, but a brief panic was resolved by the second X-Ray, from a different angle, which showed a better result. Bahr was given the go-ahead for that coming Sunday.

After he made the kick against San Francisco, Bahr remembers long-snapper Steve DeOssie telling his teammates to lay off Bahr’s head during the celebration.

“I remember that after, DeOssie was protecting me. Like, ‘Don’t hit him in the head!’ Because everyone’s excited and all that good stuff, and the head slap is a traditional ‘Attaboy!’”

The next week in the Super Bowl, Bahr had recovered enough to hit both of his field goals and even make two tackles, a skill he was known for. But the effects from the play against Chicago lingered. After the game, while his teammates partied, Bahr fell asleep immediately.

Concussion or not, he considers 1990 the high-point of his professional career. He had actually won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 1979, “but I was just kind of a dumbass rookie with the Steelers, so I don’t think I could fully appreciate what it meant.”

He then spent the better part of the 1980s with the Cleveland Browns, who twice advanced to the N.F.C. Championship game, but were denied a trip to the Super Bowl by the late-game heroics of John Elway.

“After all those years in Cleveland, I realized you not only have to play good ball, but you have to have some breaks go your way. You realize how hard Super Bowl rings are to come by.”

The last two games of that 1990 Giants season were full of plays that, had they unfolded differently, would have meant a different outcome. The most obvious of these was Scott Norwood’s failed 47-yard field goal attempt in the Super Bowl (which, in fairness to both Norwood and the Giants’ defense, was a low-percentage kick).  There was also Roger Craig’s fumble in the N.F.C. Championship game, forced by Erik Howard and serendipitously recovered by Lawrence Taylor, which gave the Giants possession to set up Bahr’s field goal. And then there was Bahr’s field goal itself.

On the play, Bahr remembers, San Francisco ran a stunt, on which the defender on the far outside of their defensive formation looped around and charged through untouched between the end-tackle gap.

Bahr’s kick, famously to Giants fans, came off his foot at a slightly leftward angle, but seemed to straighten out as it traveled downfield before sneaking inside the left upright. If the ball hadn’t come off his foot at that leftward angle, Bahr thinks it may have gotten blocked.

“I don’t know what would’ve happened if I had hit it right over the middle. When I look at it that way, it was like, ‘Whoa, maybe it was good that I hit it that way.'  It was one of the many things that worked out for us. It really was a stroke of good fortune.”