Bills' Bailey battles to keep focus on football

January 17, 1991|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,Knight-Ridder

ORCHARD PARK,N.Y. — ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The only member of the National Football League to die in Vietnam was former Buffalo Bills guard Bob Kalsu, who was serving in that war as a first lieutenant.

For Buffalo linebacker Carlton Bailey, a Woodlawn graduate who played at North Carolina, the plaque outside the Bills' offices honoring Kalsu is a sober reminder. Bailey's father, Army Sgt. Conway Bailey, is on duty in Saudi Arabia, where war began yesterday.

"It's kind of hard not to think about it when one of your loved ones is over there. It's real hard," said Bailey an hour before war broke out last night. "But in the latest letter I received from my father, about two weeks ago, he said, 'Do the best you can and don't worry about me.'

"He said to take care of things here and get to the Super Bowl, and he'll take care of things there."

The biggest game of Bailey's career is Sunday, the AFC championship game against the Los Angeles Raiders at Buffalo's Rich Stadium.

On a squad that features such defensive standouts as lineman Bruce Smith and linebackers Shane Conlan and Cornelius Bennett, Bailey gets little attention. But even though he splits playing time with Ray Bentley at right inside linebacker and has started only five games, he has still managed 57 tackles and two sacks. He also has 18 hits while covering kickoffs and punts.

"Ray might run out of the tunnel on Sunday as the starter, but I'll be right in there in the second quarter," Bailey said. "We'll split time in the second half if we're not in a nickel defense."

Bailey's most productive game came in the regular-season finale against Washington at RFK Stadium, when he had six solo tackles and four assists in a losing effort. Under normal circumstances, his father, an assistant warden in civilian life, would have been at that game.

"My father was on active duty for 15 years and in the reserves the last 10," Bailey said. "He spent two tours of duty in Vietnam, but he never talked much about it. I guess it was hard for him.

"He was activated in September and sent overseas about a month or two later. I was praying that he wouldn't be sent, but I guess when your country calls, you do your duty."

Bailey said that while his father remained upbeat, he did detect an apprehensive tone in a recent letter.

"It sounded like he was nervous, more so than about Vietnam," the player said. "Maybe it's because the United States has always fought for democracy, but this time, we could end up fighting for oil."

This week, Bailey bought an armload of Bills shirts and caps as part of a package he plans to send to his father. Bailey has been videotaping recent Bills games so his father can share this special time in his son's life.

"The hottest thing over there is the newspapers. They get the news a couple of days after everything happens," Bailey said. "I sent him a letter and told him that if I'm blessed enough to make a big play, that, hopefully, when he gets to read about it that he'll know there was something a little extra in there to make him proud of me."

Bailey will need to muster all the concentration he can on Sunday.

"It's kind of difficult [not to think about his father], but the type of person that he is, he wouldn't want me to dwell on it," Bailey said.

Outside linebacker Darryl Talley, who plays beside Bailey, said that his teammate was so successful at keeping his focus that Talley never suspected Bailey was going through a difficult time.

"He hasn't missed a beat, he hasn't missed a call, he hasn't missed a down," Talley said. "So that shows he's concentrating exactly on what he has to do. That takes discipline -- a whole lot of discipline."

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