Dan Bailey Still Kicking and Still Flying During NFL Downtime
Thursday morning, early morning as in before sun up, it looked like it was going to be a gorgeous sunrise, so Dan Bailey got out of bed and headed off to Northwest Regional Airport in Roanoke, Texas near Bailey's off-season and year round home in Flower Mound. The former Oklahoma State and Dallas Cowboys All-Pro kicker that now spends his NFL season kicking in Minnesota climbed into his two seat RV-8 single engine and went soaring through the early splash of sun and blue skies in North Texas.
"Funny you asked that," Bailey answered when I asked if he was still flying as much. "I woke up real early and got out and caught the sunrise because it was beautiful this morning in the DFW area. I went for an early morning flight and it is something (flying) that I feel real fortunate that I've been able to do and it has opened up a lot of unique avenues for me."
Bailey has always been great about finding his way down unique avenues from the time that he was a multi-sport athlete at tiny Southwest Covenant High School. Bailey stood out in just about every sport including golf, but migrated to kicking where he practiced in Mustang as a prep kicker on a homemade goal post.
"I think we used PVC pipe or something like that," Bailey joked. "It's not much different now. I kick about two or three times a week and with everything going on I just look for a park that might have a goal post or some light poles that I can use as a target."
The COVID-19 pandemic has given Bailey and other pro athletes more time for their other pursuits, but made it more difficult to find facilities to keep their professional skills sharp.
The 2010 All-American and Lou Groza Award winner was 57-of-72 on field goals at Oklahoma State including several game winners. That collegiate success led to seven-years kicking for the Dallas Cowboys where he was voted a captain. The last two seasons he has kicked for the Minnesota Vikings and last season he finished 27-of-29 on field goals, a crazy 93.1 percent. His four-for-four performance in the final regular season game, a 21-19 loss to Chicago led to a million dollar bonus. each kick he made that afternoon pushed him approximately $250,000 further down the road on his contractual bonus.
The four kicks made keeping him above 90 percent on the season kicked in a $1-million bonus.
"The exact numbers I wasn't sure of, but I was aware enough to know what I needed to end up at," Bailey said of that game that had little meaning for the team as they had clinched a playoff berth. "It wasn't until in between the third and the fourth one that somebody on the sideline mentioned it to me and I said, "I really didn't need to hear that.' The game didn't mean much from a team standpoint, but personally all those kicks meant something for me."
Leave it to a kicker to understand the pressure and that may make it easier for the Vikings and before that, the Cowboys, to allow Bailey to zip around the friendly skies. Bailey's dad has a private pilot's license and his grandfather flew in the Navy and worked on airplane systems at General Dynamics.
A few years back, Bailey's highlight in the off season was the chance to fly rear seat with the Navy Blue Angels where he estimated that he felt a G-force of 7.3 or 7.4 in going supersonic speeds. No, he did lose his lunch over Florida or the Gulf in flying in and out of the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Fla.
Bailey got his pilot's license and now has flown enough hours to receive his private pilot's license. He uses the plane to fly home to see his parent's and friends, shortening the three and a half hours in a car or truck to 45-50 minutes with an airport near his parent's home.
"It’s more of a hobby than anything, but I do use it to travel shorter distances," Bailey said. "If I want to go see my family in Oklahoma, I’d rather fly because it takes me 45-50 minutes instead of 3 1/2 hours in the car.
He has a whole different set of friends, some of them former military that he has met and embraced through his flying. Bailey has no problem sitting around talking airplanes and aviation history.
"I got connected with a good group of guys at the airport I’m at, a lot of former military guys, and we all have a passion for it," Bailey added. "I've met a lot of cool people and it just really makes me kick myself because OSU has a really good aeronautics program and flight school at the airport and I never got involved when I was in school."
Bailey has done his due diligence and his plane even reflects a part of militaty flight history with the tail insignia from the Navy VFA-103 Squadron, a unit established in 1952 and nicknamed the Jolly Rogers. The VFA-103 flies the FA-18F Super Hornet. Just a tab bit more power than Bailey's RV-8.
Bailey's longest trip was last year when he flew his plane to Minnesota for mini camp, OTAs, and off-season work. While up there he flew up around northern Minnesota and around the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.
One Oklahoma State fan questioned me about why the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings would go for their kicker buzzing around in a single engine acrobatic plane.
My best answer, Dan Bailey is very conscientious and careful person. On top of that, he's a kicker and who better to deal with pressure like that in the cockpit than a guy that does it roughly 30-35 times in fall on Sundays.