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'Something special': Penn State, U.S. soccer legend Walter Bahr dies

Bahr was the last living member of the U.S. soccer team that upset England in the 1950 World Cup.
Bahr was the last living member of the U.S. soccer team that upset England in the 1950 World Cup. AP Photo

The Penn State and international soccer community lost a legend.

Walter Bahr, the last living member of the U.S. soccer team that upset England in the 1950 World Cup, died Monday morning in Boalsburg from complications resulting from a broken hip. Bahr was 91.

"He had one hell of a run in his life," former Penn State head coach Bob Warming said. "We should all be so fortunate to have the run that guy has had in his life, who has done the things he's done and impacted the people he's impacted. Those folks are very few and far between on the planet. And he did it in a way that made you smile."

Added former U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati on Twitter: "Saddened to learn of the passing of Walter Bahr — a legend as a player, as a coach and most importantly as a caring gentleman. Rest in peace my friend."

Bahr is regarded as one of the most important American soccer figures of all-time. He is most famous for providing the assist on Joe Gaetjens' goal that gave the U.S. a 1-0 win in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

On June 29, 1950 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Bahr — then a school teacher — and the U.S. national team faced world power England in the group stage of the World Cup. In the 37th minute, Bahr ripped a 25-yard shot that found the head of a diving Gaetjens. The Haitian-born striker did just enough to put the ball past Three Lions goalkeeper Bert Williams.

"Not to pat myself on the back, but it was a decent shot. I'd made good contact," Bahr told Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl in 2014. "You wonder how (Gaetjens) got to the ball, let alone put it in the net."

After the shocking moment, one that caused Estadio Independecia to erupt, Bahr and his teammates withstood a dominant second half from England and held on for the upset. The team — managed by former Nittany Lions coach Bill Jeffrey — became a part of sports history.

Many call the performance — which was made into a film called The Game of Their Lives — a launching point for American soccer. But Bahr's lasting impact on the game in this country was greater than one play.

After winning American Soccer League titles in Philadelphia in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1956 as a player, Bahr ventured into coaching. He managed in the ASL from 1958 to 1969 and coached at Temple for a few years before heading to Happy Valley.

From 1974 to 1987, Bahr boasted a 185-66-22 record with Penn State, led the Nittany Lions to 12 NCAA tournament appearances and coached five All-Americans. He was named NSCAA National Coach of the Year in 1979, was inducted into the organization's hall of fame in 1995 and became a National Soccer Hall of Fame honoree in 1976.

FOX Sports host Rob Stone tweeted, saying that Bahr's "contributions will be felt for generations." Warming agreed wholeheartedly.

"He was something special," the two-time national coach of the year said. "Something special, that guy."

Bahr is survived by his wife of 71 years, Davies, as well as four children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. Two of Bahr's sons, Matt and Chris, played soccer and football for Penn State, with both going on to NFL careers and winning a pair of Super Bowls each.

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