This time, gulf war veteran gets closer seat for son's Super Bowl

January 14, 1992|By Milton Kent

At this time last year, Conway Bailey was sitting in an Army camp in Saudi Arabia, waiting for his orders.

Bailey, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, was called to duty in the Persian Gulf war and missed the Super Bowl, listening to the results on BBC radio a day later.

He didn't get a chance to watch his son, Carlton, a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, play in football's ultimate spectacle until April, four months after the Bills had dropped a 20-19 decision to the New York Giants.

Because the chances of getting back to "The Show" are so slim, the elder Bailey thought he might not ever get a chance to see Carlton play in the Super Bowl. "When I was in Iraq, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would never come around again," said Conway Bailey, 45.

Maybe he sensed his father's concerns. Carlton Bailey ensured that he would get back to the title game when he intercepted a tipped John Elway pass and ran 11 yards for the game's only touchdown as the Bills beat the Denver Broncos, 10-7, Sunday to win the AFC title.

Is his father happy?

"This is not my normal voice," Conway Bailey said. "I lost my voice yelling and screaming and jumping to the ceiling. It was really an exciting game.

"I really felt that yesterday he would have an interception. I prayed before the game that he would have a big game, and he did."

As one would expect, the phones have been ringing off the hook with congratulations and support -- at the Bailey residence in Woodlawn and at Conway Bailey's counselor's desk at the Maryland House of Correction.

Oddly enough, one person Conway Bailey hasn't spoken to yet is his son.

"I have left messages on his answering machine. I don't know if he's been ducking everybody or what," Conway Bailey said.

Carlton Bailey, 28, graduated from Woodlawn High in 1983 before attending North Carolina. He was chosen by the Bills on the ninth round of the 1988 NFL draft. Yesterday at Woodlawn, the celebrating began. A poster brought in by an alumnus hangs in the front window of the gym and reads: "Woodlawn's Best -- Carlton Bailey 54 Go Buffalo Bills," in red and black lettering to signify the school's colors and in red and blue, the colors of the Bills.

"A lot of the faculty have been talking about him," said football coach George Goudy, who noted that Bailey contributed weights and equipment to the school two years ago. "He was one of the real success stories we've had. He was a real class kid."

Inside, McKinley Watson, a linebacker on the school's team, tookspecific pride in Carlton Bailey's accomplishments, since he wears the No. 54 that the five-year veteran wears in Buffalo. "I knew he was a linebacker like me, so I got it," said Watson, 16, a sophomore. "He's the only person in this school that made it to the NFL. Maybe I can be in his shoes someday."

Nakia Merritt, a senior on the boys' basketball team, said the school has rallied behind the Bills.

"A lot of people are pulling for the Bills because one of our guys is on the team," said Merritt, 17. "I know I'm voting for the Bills."

Steve Williams, 23, remembered Carlton Bailey directly. He was a freshman on the football and track teams during Bailey's senior year at Woodlawn.

"I look up [to] and admire the man for what's he's doing and the way he's going about it," said Williams, who is playing for a semipro football team in Arbutus.

"A lot of guys get caught up in all the wrong things. Carlton has kept a level head. He's a legend in his own time. He's gone from this small fringe guy to a monster in the NFL."

Conway Bailey said he has completed his travel plans and will be making his first trip to Minneapolis, the site of the Jan. 26 Super Bowl.

Because he had to wait until after the AFC championship game to decide if he'd be going, Conway Bailey couldn't find lodging any closer than 60 miles from the city.

But that's OK with him.

"This is a dream come true," Conway Bailey said. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."

One more thing: It seems that when he's not rooting for the Bills, Conway Bailey's other favorite team is the Washington Redskins, Buffalo's Super Bowl opponent.

"There's no problem," the elder Bailey said. "I have a total commitment to the Bills."

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