When the Colts selected Jim Bailey in the second round of the 1970 NFL draft, it took awhile to tell him. Bailey had no phone.
“My wife and I lived in an apartment off campus,” said Bailey, 69, then a defensive tackle at Kansas. “Someone came by and said the Colts were trying to reach me, so I went to a pay phone, dropped in a dime and called.”
That he was drafted at all surprised Bailey. The 44th player chosen, he hadn’t been named an All-American and his college team stunk (1-9).
“I came out of left field,” he said. But the Colts saw something in the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Jayhawk, who would replace Billy Ray Smith, a pillar on the Colts line for nine years and two NFL championships.
“I always felt I was the underdog and had to work harder than everyone else — and I think it showed,” Bailey said.
Bailey played five years in Baltimore and nine in the pros. As a rookie, he helped the Colts reach the Super Bowl and has a championship ring to show for it.
“I just had [the ring] refurbished, so it looks new,” he said from his home in Lawrence, Kan. “It’s something I can look at, and remember my teammates. Then I look at the number on the ring [Super Bowl V] and start tallying them up. Has it been 46 years? That makes me feel old.”
As a rookie, he started in a vengeful 29-22 victory over the Jets, the first time the teams had played since New York upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. A week earlier, Bailey had saved the day in a win over Houston. Late in the game and 3 yards from the end zone, the Oilers tried to pass for a touchdown. But Bailey burst through the line, arms raised, wrecking the play as the Colts won, 24-20.
Baltimore was a veteran team then, and Bailey leaned on old-timers such as Smith and Fred Miller, the other defensive tackle, for counsel.
“I learned a lot from them,” he said, “like how to hold [an opponent] without getting caught, and how to pick my feet up so nobody would cave my knees in.”
Sidelined several times with injuries, Bailey became a full-time starter in 1972. That year, against the Jets, he shook Joe Namath so hard that the quarterback had to be helped off the field. And in a 31-0 win over the New England Patriots, Bailey smeared quarterback Jim Plunkett, who fumbled the ball away.
But those were tough times for the Colts.
“[General manager] Joe Thomas and his demolition squad came in and blew up the team,” said Bailey, who was traded after the 1974 season to the Jets. A year later, he joined Atlanta, where he started for the 1977 Falcons team that set an all-time NFL mark for fewest points allowed in a 14-game season (129).
He retired in 1978, returned to Kansas and became a gasoline marketer, and later a real estate salesman. Married 50 years to his high school sweetheart, Bailey now dotes on his three granddaughters, two of whom live nearby. His right knee gives him fits, and he has battled diabetes for years, but he takes the girls to museums, parks and zoos around town.
He still has an old, hooded Colts sweatshirt, with a bucking horse on it — “but I’ve outgrown it,” said Bailey, who’s heavier now.