Catching Up With ... former Woodlawn, NFL linebacker Carlton Bailey

Carlton Bailey has three conference championship rings and the memory of that AFC title game in 1992, when he intercepted a pass by the Denver Broncos' John Elway and ran for a touchdown in a 10-7 victory that sent the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl.

"I've been blessed," said Bailey, 50, a graduate of Woodlawn High and an NFL linebacker for a decade. "Football took me places I would never have known. I played in three Super Bowls; how many Hall of Famers even make the playoffs? For me, doors opened, opportunities happened and I made the most of it.


"I may not have been the best player to come out of Baltimore County in my day, but I know I was the hungriest."

That is some solace for Bailey, who's now battling ailments brought about by the game.


"I've had both knees and shoulders replaced and, like most guys, I've got those 'cobwebs' upstairs," he said from his home near Charlotte, N.C. "At times I don't think so well. I can't handle crowds or even watch football. If not for my Bible, I'd be in that dark, dark hole.

"My body is beat up, but I try to stay positive. I'm not here to complain; this isn't a pity party. I chose football, not the other way around — and all of this comes with it."

On tough days, Bailey treasures keepsakes from his 10-year career — photos of himself with quarterback Jim Kelly and defensive end Bruce Smith, with whom he played for the Bills, and linebacker Lawrence Taylor, a teammate on the New York Giants. Hall of Famers, all.

"Everywhere I've been, God has blessed me," Bailey said.

A city kid, he grew up playing pickup football in the streets of northwest Baltimore.

"You ran between cars and made tackles on asphalt," he said. "Running pass routes, you never made a cut because of the oil on the roads."

He attended Woodlawn at the behest of his parents, using an address of relatives who lived in Baltimore County. For the Warriors' rugged summer practices, Bailey bicycled from his home off Northern Parkway, then back again.

"I loved Woodlawn," he said. "The coaches, George Goudy and Dick Estes, gave me a chance and sewed themselves into my life. And I busted my butt in geometry for Miss Kelly."


He blossomed there, making The Sun's All-Metro first team as a defensive lineman in 1982 and earning a scholarship to North Carolina, where he played nose guard for the Tar Heels. Buffalo's ninth-round draft pick in 1988, Bailey starred on special teams for three years before becoming a starter at linebacker, a new position for the 6-foot-3, 230-pound player.

"It was a difficult transition," he said. "I'd never stood up in my life."

He played in the shadows until Jan. 12, 1992, when, in the third quarter of the scoreless AFC championship game, Bailey picked off a tipped pass and ran 11 yards for the game's only touchdown in Buffalo's 10-7 victory over Denver.

"When I caught that ball I said, 'I'm takin' it to the house,'" he said. Elway attempted a saving tackle, to no avail.

"I used a little forearm deal on him," Bailey said.

The win sent the Bills to the Super Bowl, where they fell to the Washington Redskins, one of three consecutive Super Bowls that Bailey's team lost. After five years in Buffalo, he spent two years with the Giants, then three with the Carolina Panthers before retiring in 1997.


He worked in pharmaceutical sales and as a motivational speaker before leaving the workforce in 2012.

"Most days my body aches, but I have faith," Bailey said. "Thank God for my wife, Jodie. I'm jammed up, but there are other [former NFL players] out there who are really messed up. I just want to live out my life in peace and leave my [AFC] championship rings to my three kids."

Some years ago, he donated football equipment to Woodlawn, a benevolent nod to his past.

"I still have my old Warriors jersey packed away in the barn behind my house," Bailey said. "I live by the mantra, 'Warriors never give up — they keep fighting to the end.' And only special warriors make it to the NFL."