By Jeff Moeller
The textbook definition for the word stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”
For a kicker, common stereotypes seemingly stretch the length of a football field: Un-athletic, scrawny, not a real football player.
All labels and jokes aside, those descriptions are more and more becoming a misconception, and the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey is at the forefront of how kickers are now being perceived: Athletic, built, a real football player.
“I think in the past our position has carried a bit of a stigma. We have never really had that term ‘athlete’ applied to us. We have maybe been known as being characters in a way,” said Bailey. “But I think we are athletic on the field, and I take pride in what I do. I think doing what I do in the weight room can carry over to the field itself.”
Sure, Bailey’s job is first and foremost to kick the ball – field goal attempts, extra point attempts and kickoffs. And, he does it better than just about anyone. Last season he hit on 30-of-32 field goals and all 25 PATs – even with the change in distance – to go along with an NFL-best 93.8 field goal percentage, which tied with Josh Brown of the New York Giants. His 30 field goals were the second most in his career and fourth most in club history.
The Oklahoma State product kicked his way to his first Pro Bowl invite and his first Second Team All-Pro nod. That’s a rather nice return for an undrafted player who inked a free-agent contract in 2011 before then earning an All-Rookie Team selection.
How Bailey went from going undrafted to now being honored in Hawaii is the direct result of the drive and determination he displays on the field. How Bailey gets his results is also a direct result of his drive and determination in general, a lot of which is not seen on any given Sunday.
“I certainly take a great deal of pride in staying fit and putting in the work in the weight room and putting in the work on the field as well,” said Bailey, who has hit from as far away as 56 yards in a game. “Look, it is black and white. It is either good or not. You have to make the most of your opportunities. Focusing at practice, however, helps that preparation, helps you to contribute.”
Watching Bailey during practice is unique. He primarily works in a three-man unit, along with punter Chris Jones and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, on a side area of the field with special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia rotating through. Within the group, each brings a different skill set and responsibilities.
Snap. Hold. Kick. Repeat.
Oh, and a whole bunch of stretching.
“He has a lot of special character traits as a man that I believe carry over into his detailed work as a kicker,” said Bisaccia of Bailey, who is under contract with Dallas through 2020.
“It can be our own little world, but that is just the nature of the job,” Bailey said of his trio. “We get limited reps in practice, so we try and get those done together. For a game, we might go out on the field and work together four, five, six times. You need to make practice count.”
Bailey also makes it count when he is not on the practice field. And that starts in the weight room, although when he lines up next to his enormous teammates he does probably stick out just a little.
“Yeah, I guess you can say that you are cognizant going in there, factoring in body weight and all,” said Bailey. “I can’t squat and bench how much these linemen are doing. My advice is to keep it to your size and to your strength level.”
Bailey is 6 feet tall and weighs 195 pounds. Wouldn’t one of his bigger teammates be able to kick the ball farther?
“That is a good question,” he said while laughing. “A lot has to do with repetition. To me, it is almost second nature. It is muscle memory. An example I give is golfers. Look at Rory McIlroy, look at Rickie Fowler. They are not huge guys, but they are lean and they can power the ball down the fairways 330 yards.
“It is about power and it is about timing. It is about synching it all up. That is what it is like for me as a specialist,” continued Bailey, who owns a 90.6 percentage on field goals over his career, the NFL’s all-time best. “It is really impacting that ball at the right spot.”
Figures he would use a golf reference. In his native Oklahoma City, Bailey, who currently plays to a six handicap, was a state champion golfer in high school.
While he already shares a weight room and the occasional golf course with his teammates, he also involves himself in many of their other activities as well.
“What I really enjoy doing is going out with the skill guys in the spring when they are running routes,” he said. “I would never do that on the football field in a game, but the exercise shows me where I’m at and it pushes me. Those guys – wide receivers and cornerbacks – really push me, and it gets me more acclimated with my teammates.
“You don’t want to be simply ‘the kicker on the other field.’”
Things are indeed changing. Despite his 600 career points, which are third in team history, he is not resting on his laurels. He’s now practicing yoga as part of his workout routine and recently added racquetball to his physical fitness résumé. Often he is paired against Jones, his buddy, on the court.
So, Chris, who is the better racquetball player?
“We both rank fairly high, but we are also pretty even,” said the team’s punter, who is very close in age to Bailey. “I would say the games we play are split. Out of 10 games, he gets five and I get five. It is good fun.
“It is a lot of running around. You don’t realize what a good workout it is at the time you’re playing a game, but you really wear yourself out. And, it’s good competition.”
They also take that into the weight room together.
“We have a pretty good partnership, I guess you can say, when it comes to both being in the gym together,” Jones said. “I don’t think that either of us carry in a ‘I need to beat you, you need to beat me’ type of mentality. But we are always pushing each other, and I think that is a great dynamic. Whether it is on the field or off the field, we are pushing each other to max it out.”
That cohesiveness is not lost on Bisaccia, who has consistently been around some of the game’s most successful participants in the kicking game, including Martin Gramatica, Nick Novak and Connor Barth.
“I think Dan is great,” Bisaccia said. “I think he is a special player. What makes him special is that he is the same to the very utmost detail every single day. The routine of his day is no different than the routine of his kick.”
For the durable Bailey – he has never missed a game in his NFL career – it is about snaps, holds and kicks. With Bisaccia, the longtime coach, it is about the detailed work of steps, planting the foot and the focus with the eyes. And with Bisaccia, Bailey has truly earned the respect of his coach.
“He is like an astronaut. He is that one percent on this planet.”
An astronaut with a dirty uniform.
Added Bisaccia: “Like with Chris Jones, the [conditioning] numbers that Dan posts, when you look at them, are comparable to our other guys. They are always the first in the weight room. They are always the last to leave. They compete in the weight room, and they don’t shy away from anything.
“Physically, what Dan has done with his body certainly separates him from others in the league.”
Breaking stereotypes. A big boon in the big picture, just like Bailey’s booming right foot for the Cowboys.
By Jeff Moeller