Placekickers, by definition, face pressure when they have to hit field goals in the waning minutes of games in which the outcome is not yet decided, like the game Bailey’s Oklahoma State team won, 38-35, over Texas A&M last Sept. 30 after Bailey drilled a 40-yard field goal as time expired. After signing with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, Bailey spent training camp making field goals as he battled for a roster spot.
The competition was stiff, as the Cowboys brought in an unheard-of five kickers before choosing holdover David Buehler to handle kickoffs and Bailey to handle placekicks over challenges from rookie Kai Forbath, who ended up on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list with a nagging quadriceps injury, and veterans Shayne Graham and Dave Rayner, who were cut.
“It was a little different,” Bailey said. “I have been on a lot of teams where they had more than one kicker — which is good, because competition makes everyone better — but five is a lot.”
Bailey said he didn’t know how to explain the difference between the kinds of pressure, other than to say that in each case — at the end of a game or in camp, trying to secure a roster spot — the best way to deal with pressure while kicking is to eliminate the pressure altogether.
“When you kick, you can’t think about pressure, in a game or even in practice,” Bailey said. “I try not to, anyway. I can’t think about what I can’t control, so all I try to do is go out and make all the kicks I can.
“I try to treat games like they’re practice. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. It’s not like kicking in practice is easy — you’re trying to impress the coaches there. The preseason games were the same way — I was trying to prove myself, to show the coaches I can go out and make kicks, so I don’t think a regular game will be more pressure than that.”
That might or might not be true, but Bailey will get a chance soon to find out. He makes his NFL debut Sunday night when the Cowboys open the 2011 season at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets. Bailey said that even with the spotlight of being the only game on television Sunday night and the celebration surrounding the 10-year anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he doesn’t expect to struggle with nerves in his professional debut.
“I expect to feel about the same,” he said. “The attention, the pressure of a certain kick — that’s the kind of stuff you think about after you make it or after you miss it … or after the game is over.
“You can’t psyche yourself out, in college or the NFL, or you’re not going to be around long.”
The Jets’ and New York Giants’ previous stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., had a storied history of being a difficult venue in which to kick. In addition to the frigid temperatures that blanket the northeast later in the season, Meadowlands Stadium was notorious for swirling winds that could make the most accurate of kickers erratic. Bailey said he has no inclination about the wind patterns, although the elements are less likely to affect the kicking game early in the season.
“I have watched (film of) some kicks there, but you can’t really tell a lot,” he said. “It’s so new that it’s hard to say.
“But you can talk about the wind and gameplan as much as you want. When it comes down to it, you just have to go with what you feel.”