PENSACOLA, Fla. -- It's 8 a.m. at Pensacola Naval Air Station. With a cold stare on his face, Dan Bailey looks as if he's locked in to attempt a game-winning field goal for the Dallas Cowboys. Instead, he is about to fulfill a lifelong dream: flying with the Blue Angels.
"When I showed up this morning, I was a little nervous -- but a little anxious, too," Bailey said. "It felt a lot like going to the stadium, getting ready to play a game."
|Dan Bailey equated pre-flight nerves to his feelings before an NFL game. (Desmond Purnell/NFL.com)|
But just like any game, this experience was preceded by practice and preparation. Bailey had to consult with his Blue Angels crew chief before he could take flight. During a morning training session, Bailey was told flying in a Blue Angels aircraft is like riding a roller coaster on steroids, bringing a slight smile to his face. After a full briefing and detailed inspection of the aircraft, Bailey's moment finally arrived -- a moment years in the making.
"Growing up, I've always wanted to come out and take a ride in one of these aircrafts," Bailey said. "It's always been a dream of mine. It's just always something I've had on my bucket list."
At 9:30 a.m., Bailey departed on the ride of his life.
After 45 minutes in the air facing nearly seven G's of force, it was time for Bailey to make his descent. Although he said the flight felt like a two-hour workout, Bailey enjoyed every second.
"I think the training we do in football -- in kicking especially, a lot of lower-leg work -- definitely helped me, but man ... It's still a beating," Bailey said. "These guys are the real deal, for sure!"
Now that Bailey has crossed this activity off the bucket list, he looks forward to cultivating a growing reputation on the gridiron, as one of the most consistent, clutch kickers in the NFL.
Last fall, in his third professional season, Bailey converted 28 of 30 field-goal attempts, nailing six of seven from 50-plus yards. Over the past two seasons, he's missed a grand total of four kicks. As a result, the Cowboys rewarded Bailey with a contract extension that will take him through the 2020 season. The total package is worth $22.5 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed.
"In The NFL, job security is at a premium, so anytime you can afford yourself that on some level, it's always nice to work something out," Bailey said. "But from a personal standpoint, (Dallas is) one of the best places to kick in the league. Eight of my games are inside, so that makes my job easier. It's a first-class organization. It's a good city, a good place to raise kids, so I couldn't be happier to stick around here a little longer."
With professional peace of mind, Bailey and his wife, Krista, are considering having kids in the near future. These days, it's extremely difficult for Bailey to complain about anything. But one thing clearly draws his ire: people talking about lengthening -- or even eliminating -- the extra point.
"Overall, I understand where they are coming from. You're trying to make the game more exciting. It is sort of a boring play. Half the people are going to the bathroom or whatever," Bailey conceded, before striking back with a counter-argument. "You're trying to take away something you're basically saying is boring and it's not exciting. Well, neither is watching somebody stick their hands between somebody's legs and get a football. I mean, every play starts like that. Center and quarterback exchange, right -- most would say that's (boring). But what happened during the first play of the Super Bowl? Snap went over the head, changed the whole game -- and that's the Super Bowl, the biggest stage you can have."
This past season, NFL kickers missed just five of 1,267 extra-point attempts, a conversion rate of 99.6 percent. Bailey has never missed a PAT in three NFL seasons, going a perfect 123 for 123. The nearly automatic nature of the play led NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss its potential elimination back in January. At the NFL Annual Meeting last month, the league announced an experiment for the coming preseason: In Weeks 1 and 2, extra points will be snapped from the 20-yard line, as opposed to the usual spot at the 2-yard line. Bailey is wary of any permanent change.
"If you do away with it completely, then our jobs are halfway gone," Bailey said. "If you move it back, then it changes the game."
Bailey pointed to the Cowboys' Week 16 win over the rival Washington Redskins. With Dallas down 23-17 late in the fourth quarter, DeMarco Murray scored a touchdown to knot it up, and Bailey converted the ensuing extra point to notch the win. What if that extra-point attempt had been pushed back 20 or so yards, Bailey wonders. Could this have altered the outcome of the game? Might Jason Garrett have been tempted to instead try a two-point conversation from the end zone's doorstep?
"I think there are a lot of implications, just on the strategies of the game -- not only from my standpoint, but a coach's standpoint," Bailey said.
Even with that comeback win over the Redskins, the Cowboys still finished the season at 8-8 -- the record they've posted in all three of Bailey's NFL campaigns. The kicker aims to do his part to get Dallas out of this rut of .500 football in 2014, but the team must move forward without some familiar faces. The Cowboys will enter next season without cornerstone defenders DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher and veteran offensive presence Miles Austin.
"Those guys are the face of our team, really, and they're big personalities. They're really good guys, really good leaders -- they'll definitely be missed," Bailey said. "But somebody's going to step up. We still got Tony (Romo), we still got Wit (Jason Witten), we got guys like that, that have been around for a while that can kind of take control, not that they haven't already, but really kind of step in and fill the gap."
The Cowboys haven't been extremely active in free agency, but Bailey anticipates strong internal growth.
"It's time for younger guys to step up," Bailey said. "We got a ton of guys that have great leadership qualities. It's exciting -- we're getting younger. I think it's exciting for the next two to three years and beyond."
Exciting times indeed, with and without the Blue Angels.
Follow Desmond Purnell on Twitter @DesmondPurnell.