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SIMMONS: Bailey's long football journey finds him in Grey Cup

Receiver Rasheed Bailey (left) jokes with Lucky Whitehead during Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp at IG Field on May 26, 2019. (Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun)
Receiver Rasheed Bailey (left) jokes with Lucky Whitehead during Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp at IG Field on May 26, 2019. (Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun)

CALGARY — This is who plays in the Grey Cup and in the Canadian Football League.

Football players who keep running into dead ends. American kids who don’t ever think of leaving their country.

Men who can’t stop chasing their dreams — big dreams, personal dreams, small dreams even — when suddenly playing in a place like Winnipeg for a championship they’d never heard of becomes the most important sporting moment of their lives.

Rasheed Bailey never saw himself as a Blue Bomber or in Canada or anything like that at all. He’s a football player and a huge football fan who grew up in Philadelphia worshipping the Eagles of the Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Andy Reid days, played his high school ball there, played his Divison III college ball just outside the city, and playing for the Eagles was all that ever mattered to him.

And then it happened after he wasn’t drafted in the NFL.

“I signed to my home team and it was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. I grew up loving the Eagles, always loving them, and I had a chance to be part of that team. It was like no other feeling,” said Bailey. “Drafted, undrafted. I didn’t care how I did it. I just wanted the phone call, the opportunity. And I knew once I got my foot in the door, there was no turning back.”

It didn’t exactly work out that way in 2015. He got his foot in the Eagles door and was cut at the end of his first training camp.

“I was upset, emotional,” said the thoughtful Bailey. “My mind was messed up for a while. I had a workout in Jacksonville, a workout in Cleveland. I thought I did well. Neither team signed me. Then I had workout in Kansas City.

“That didn’t work out either.”

His agent, Joe Linta, is a big-timer in the NFL. Among others, he represents the hugely paid Joe Flacco. Linta told Bailey to try the CFL. That was four years ago. He went to the B.C. Lions, lasted just a couple of weeks and was never happy there.

“I called my agent. I said ‘Get me out of here.’ And just about that time, Jacksonville called. The Jaguars wanted another look.”

They took a long look. An entire season on the practice squad.

“I got my first big cheques in Jacksonville,” said Bailey. “Bought my first car there, got my first apartment.”

And he got released again. On waivers, both Philadelphia and San Diego put in claims. The Chargers, being lower in the standings, got to sign Bailey.

“Things were going well. I was having a great camp with the Chargers and then wound up getting hurt in the last pre-season game,” he said. He was released and told he would be signed back when he was healthy.

No offer ever came.

After that, lots of thinking and not much football.

“I do motivational speaking. I like to give back to the kids in my community. I did some coaching. I did some speaking. I kept pretty busy.”

And then, guess who, the Eagles called again. How he could resist that?

“They won the Super Bowl that year.”

He was released long before that happened.

“I wound up in Cleveland for training camp.”

That didn’t work out. And then Carolina.

“They had no intention of signing me but I killed the workout,” he said. “I wound up there for almost a year.”

Bailey never played a regular season game for the Panthers. He never did play a regular season game in the NFL but he signed a lot of contracts.

Wherever Bailey tried to play, he always wound up hearing from Ryan Rigmalden when it didn’t work out. Rigmalden was a scout with B.C. and now the director of college scouting for the Blue Bombers.

“Every time I got released, Ryan would text me. ‘Are you thinking about coming to the CFL? Are you ready?’ I’d been giving him the runaround for all these years and finally I gave in. He never stopped chasing me. And I’m here and extra happy with the decision I made and I wish I had done it sooner.”

Bailey has played just five games for the Bombers. The Grey Cup will be his sixth game. He wants to matter on Sunday and in future years. He’s never scored a touchdown.

“I want to make a name for myself, I’ve always wanted to do that,” said Bailey. “I always thought, I want to inspire kids, I want to motivate little girls and boys and moms and dads and grandparents, that no matter what you do in life, never give up. And when I say that, I get emotional. I didn’t give up.

“And I’m here and playing in the Grey Cup. And, honest, I didn’t used to know what the Grey Cup is.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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