Off Broadway Heroes: A Running Profile of Those Who Succeeded Below the Highest Level

The NFL is the beautiful side of the game of football.  It is a league that garners praise and popularity while turning the few who can excel in it into immortal figures. This is why we here at Sports Casualties find intrigue in the other side of the game. The aspect of the game that is played on a gravel back road, not a glistening main street.

This is the second piece in an occasional series that will profile professional football players who succeeded in a now defunct league only to never “make it” anywhere else. Fellow Sports Casualties writer Robbie Hilson referred to this series as a “Where are they now?” for players who were never anywhere in the first place. He is correct.

I have a confession to make.

When I first thought up this occasionally running profile, it was because of one player. One player came to mind when I thought of the master of the defunct professional football league. That man was Mario Bailey, the all-time reception leader in the history of NFL Europe, and a fixture in both the Arena Football League and the XFL. He did all of this without catching a single NFL pass.

Few men have made an entire career out of being nowhere, but that is exactly what Bailey accomplished. For that, we here at Sports Casualties acknowledge him. In the words of San Antonio State freshman fullback Tim Riggans: Cheers Mario Bailey!

Mario Bailey’s notable football career began at the University of Washington where he was a record-breaking star receiver on a national championship team. Bailey is noted as one of the greatest receivers in the history of Washington Huskies football, which says good things about him and rather mediocre things about the program. Regardless, he still holds the Huskies record for most receiving touchdowns in a season (18) and a career (30).

Bailey was a leader on the 1991 Huskies team that earned a share of the national championship with the Miami Hurricanes, an unfortunate incident that taught Sports Casualties co-author and bombastic Hurricanes enthusiast Robbie Hilson about the art of sharing at a young age. Fortunately for Hilson, 1991 was Bailey’s final season in Seattle, so this column will not mention the 1994 “Whammy in Miami.”

Bailey would be drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1992, but would see the NFL playing time of Stuart Scott and John Clayton combined. Like I said, Bailey never caught a pass on the Tagliabue streets of gold. In fact, his football career would go as inactive as Bill Clinton’s military service until 1995 when NFL Europa – better known to most as NFL Europe – was founded. The creation of NFL Europe was the football equivalent of winning the lottery and sleeping with Scarlett Johansson all in the same night for Bailey.

Seriously, Bailey went down as the Michael Jordan/Joe Montana/Wayne Freaking Gretzky of the NFL’s Cockney experiment. Said reliable-because-I-said-it-is source, Bailey is “quite simply the best player the league has seen.” Cheddarheads handled describing Bailey’s extensive stats rather well, so I will avoid boring you with them here. The point is that he caught a lot of passes for a lot of touchdowns. He also went to four World Bowls, winning two of them. You know the World Bowl, the game that you used to sneakily watch until a female figure walked in and said “Wow, you really miss football that bad? This is pathetic.”

It is safe to say that, for as long as people remember that there was a football team in Frankfurt, Germany, Bailey will never have to pay for a Weizenbock beer at a German pub.

It should come as no surprise to most that my most clear memories of Bailey come from his brief time with a brief team (pauses for nostalgia). Yes, Bailey was a receiver on my beloved Orlando Rage, the infamous choke artists in the wildly chaotic league that was Vince McMahon’s XFL. It is difficult to find an “Off Broadway” stage more colorful or interesting than the XFL. Only in the XFL could a team list reddish-orange as their primary team color, and bring the stripper cheerleaders from “The Replacements” into real life. Who can forget the pregame “scramble” for possession or the “cameras in the cheerleader locker room” angle or Jim Ross and Brian Bosworth on commentary. I feel a new series coming on strong.

Oh, XFL. How sorely you are missed.

Unfortunately, Bailey did not live up to the potential that his NFL Europa time had promised during his stint with the Rage in the XFL’s inaugural and concluding season. Bailey could not break the shadow of team leading receiver Dialleo Burks, or as I like to call him, another “Off Broadway” column for another day. Bailey would finish the season with 27 catches for 379 yards and two touchdowns.

There was little desire for Bailey’s 5-foot-9-inch frame after his season with the Rage. Bailey would go on to a short career in the Arena Football League with the Detroit Fury, Milwaukee Mustangs and Dallas Desperados. His time in these places seem to have garnered the least amount of documentation compared to the rest of his career.

Bailey went on to become a football coach at Franklin High School in Seattle. However, he is no longer listed as being affiliated with the school.


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