Bai­ley ex­cited for new chap­ter

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY NICK SARDIS Staff Writer nsardis@ok­la­

The Dal­las Cow­boys made a sur­pris­ing move when they re­leased for­mer Ok­la­homa State kicker Dan Bai­ley dur­ing fi­nal ros­ter cuts on Sept. 1.

But Bai­ley, the sec­ond­most ac­cu­rate kicker in NFL his­tory, didn’t have to wait long un­til he re­ceived mul­ti­ple of­fers from teams around the league.

Af­ter a mis­er­able Week 2 for kick­ers, Bai­ley be­came one of the most de­sired free agents in the NFL — a rar­ity for play­ers at his po­si­tion.

The South­west Covenant alum found a right fit with the Min­nesota Vik­ings, a peren­nial con­tender that has strug­gled to find a re­li­able kicker in re­cent years. Bai­ley said there are many rea­sons why he signed with the Vik­ings on Sept. 17.

“The cul­ture they have up here is right in line with what I would like to be a part of,” Bai­ley said in a phone in­ter­view with The Ok­la­homan on Thurs­day.

“Great locker room, great staff, great or­ga­ni­za­tion. Play­ing eight games in­side is al­ways a plus, so that was def­i­nitely a draw.”

While Bai­ley is ex­cited to be with the Vik­ings, he ad­mit­ted he was sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed Dal­las re­leased him.

He had es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion as one the best kick­ers in foot­ball since the Cow­boys signed him as an un­drafted free agent in 2011. How­ever, Bai­ley missed four games with a groin in­jury last sea­son and strug­gled upon his re­turn, miss­ing three kicks Dec. 10 against the New York Gi­ants.

“Tak­ing a month off in the mid­dle of the sea­son and try­ing to jump back in and pick up right where you left off … I think I un­der­es­ti­mated how tough that was ac­tu­ally go­ing to be,” he said.

De­spite his strug­gles, Bai­ley said he had a good off­sea­son and did ev­ery­thing he could to keep his spot with the Cow­boys, who went with Brett Ma­her in­stead.

“They de­cided to go a

dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,” Bai­ley said. That’s just part of the busi­ness. That’s how it works some­times.”

In­ter­est in Bai­ley picked up af­ter Week 2, when there were 19 misses across the league.

Vik­ings rookie Daniel Carl­son missed three field goals — in­clud­ing two in over­time — in a 29-29 tie against the Green Bay Pack­ers. The Vik­ings waited less than 24 hours af­ter the game to cut Carl­son, a fifth-round pick in April’s draft.

Carl­son wasn’t the only kicker to lose his job.

Zane Gon­za­lez was cut by the Cleve­land Browns af­ter miss­ing two field goals and two PATs as the Browns dropped a 21-18 heart­breaker to the New Or­leans Saints.

Af­ter the game, Saints kicker Wil Lutz con­soled Gon­za­lez on the side­line, a ges­ture that demon­strates the re­spect that kick­ers have for one an­other.

Although they are all com­pet­ing for a lim­ited num­ber of jobs, Bai­ley said, he has formed many friend­ships with NFL

kick­ers and never wants to see them fail.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing di­chotomy,” he said. “You don’t want any­body to per­form poorly. I would never wish that on any­body, es­pe­cially at my po­si­tion.

“... But in the same breath … it’s a job and there’s only 32 of them, which isn’t a lot. When you can get one, you want to do what­ever you can to hold onto to it.”

Bai­ley is try­ing to do that in Min­nesota and has per­formed well for his new team.

He didn’t at­tempt a field goal in his Vik­ings de­but against the Bills but made all three of his at­tempts the fol­low­ing Thurs­day against the Los An­ge­les Rams.

His first field goal against the Rams, a 37-yard at­tempt, bounced off the right up­right and barely went through.

Sim­i­lar to that par­tic­u­lar kick, Bai­ley’s jour­ney to the NFL wasn’t ideal.

Be­fore be­com­ing an All-Amer­i­can at OSU, he had a short stint at Arkansas af­ter high school. He lost the start­ing kicker job be­fore the 2006 sea­son, and left the Ra­zor­backs af­ter be­ing told he would have to pay for tu­ition, room and board.

In high school, Bai­ley played eight-man foot­ball at South­west Covenant in Yukon.

The school didn’t even have goal­posts un­til Bai­ley be­gan play­ing there.

Bai­ley said it is in­ter­est­ing to think about his high school days and re­flect on how far he has come since then. He dreamed of play­ing in the NFL but never ex­pected it would come true.

“That was def­i­nitely a dream of mine but I would have never guessed in a mil­lion years that I would have the op­por­tu­nity that I have now,” he said.

Now, Bai­ley is ex­cited to be­gin a new chap­ter of his life in Min­nesota and hopes to con­tinue play­ing for a long time.

“Hope­fully I can keep do­ing it for a lot longer, maybe catch up to (Adam) Vi­natieri or some of those guys,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

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