At the end of each afternoon practice open to the public, Redskins fans crowd the barriers that line the field and the path to the team’s headquarters, hoping for the player autographs they have waited more than two hours to obtain. While some players may take such experiences for granted, Antwon Bailey soaks in the atmosphere.
Bailey doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be on the players’ side of those barriers. An undrafted 5-foot-7 running back out of Syracuse, Bailey understands he faces long odds to make the Redskins’ roster.
But more significantly, Bailey connects with the team’s fans in a way that other players might not be able to. He grew up in Landover, a two-minute drive from FedEx Field. He was an All-Met defensive back and tailback at St. John’s College High. He understands the passion Washington fans share for their NFL team because his family is split down the middle – one half is loyal to the Redskins, the other cheers for the Dallas Cowboys.
“These are my people,” Bailey said of the fans who attend the team’s public practices. “The stadium is in my back yard almost. So it means a little more to me than it would if I was somewhere else.”
Bailey rushed for 1,051 yards and earned all-Big East first team honors at Syracuse in 2011, and his 91 career receptions and 706 career receiving yards are program records for a running back. He fielded interest from several teams after he went undrafted this spring, but chose the Redskins. Bailey could have faced his long odds somewhere else, but he preferred to do it close to home.
Currently, Bailey sits below established running backs Evan Royster, Roy Helu Jr., Tim Hightower – who is recovering from knee surgery – and sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris on the depth chart. Bailey knows he’ll have to emphasize his more specialized skills, such as catching the ball out of the backfield, if he hopes to make the final roster.
“This is the NFL; everybody who’s a running back can run the ball,” Bailey said. “But pass-catching ability and also pass-blocking ability, especially coming out of my situation, if you can display that you can do those things, you can catch someone’s eye.”
Bailey will try to do just that under the watchful eyes of his “people,” even if he didn’t grow up with their affinity for the team. When asked which side of his family’s divide he fell on, Bailey smiled and looked at the ground. He wouldn’t say, though he did note he was a huge fan of Emmitt Smith.