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A touch of grey

Rasheed Bailey finally thriving for Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers


Rasheed Bailey doesn’t have a Hollywood story.
Hollywood would probably reject his story because it is too unbelievable.
“I think a lot of people would have quit on their dream,” speculated Delaware Valley University head coach Duke Greco. “That never crossed his mind. He just kept working and to see him having the kind of season that he is having now is pretty special.”
After many detours and potholes, Bailey’s remarkable football road finally looks to have no traffic and a 65 mph, er 100 kilometer per hour, speed limit. That road featured a critical tune-up in Doylestown before ultimately ending in Manitoba.
Bailey is a second-year wide receiver for the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Bombers (11-3) won the Western Division and claimed the best regular season record in the CFL. Winnipeg starts its Grey Cup defense on Dec. 5, by hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the division final.
Bailey “has always had the tools to do it,” noted Winnipeg offensive coordinator Buck Pierce. “His intensity is infectious. He is pleasant to have around. He is a guy who is willing to do multiple things, whether that is get in the box and block, whether that is to run a control route for us to run different things. His growth has been great.
“For him, it’s really been a process of learning how to play football at the professional level,” Pierce continued. “You’re seeing his improvement of how he sees the game and how he understands how he has to prepare. He is reaping the benefits of that.”
“You think about Winnipeg and you say, ‘Where is Winnipeg?’ or some people might ask ‘What is the CFL?’ But the moment I got here, I knew this is a football town,” Bailey shared. “The crowd, the bells that ring, the horn, the cannon that goes off when we score touchdowns … everything about it is just special.”
Winnipeg boasted the highest scoring offense in the CFL and DelVal’s Bailey played a significant supporting role. Bailey’s 52 catches and 629 yards both placed in the CFL’s top 14. His five touchdown catches ranked fourth. Bailey also picked up 58 yards on seven rushes.
“I don’t even know where to start because I’ve been through so much and I’ve been fighting so long,” Bailey reflected. “It’s like it is all coming together at the right time and the right place. I’m still going through things that are making me a better man, a better athlete and a better teammate. I’ve learned so many things over the years that have prepared me for this moment and I am extremely blessed with this opportunity.”
The 6-foot-1 Bailey recorded his first career 100-yard receiving game in an 18-16 Aug. 29 win over the Calgary Stampeders; that victory started a nine-game Blue Bomber winning streak. He tied a career high with six receptions three weeks later in a 37-22 win at the Edmonton Elks.
An American has to adjust to the Canadian style of football, which features three downs, 12 men on each side, different motions and a longer, wider field.
“The CFL doesn’t get a lot of true tight ends like you do in the states,” Pierce shared, “so our receivers have to be able to block defensive ends, carry the football, block in space, run routes and catch the ball in traffic. We continue to put more and more on his plate. He has been receptive to that.”
Bailey “became a more technically sound blocker but a very physical blocker also,” pointed out Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea.
If hard work hadn’t been ingrained in Bailey’s DNA, he wouldn’t have succeeded.
“He has a really hard work rate at practice. He really does,” said O’Shea. “He is one of those players who is very conscientious of taking that idea to heart and trying to be better in every meeting and every practice.”
“(With) his work ethic in the offseason, he has improved dramatically. We’re happy for him because he works really hard,” Pierce echoed.
“His work ethic and his drive are unique,” Greco explained. “It’s made him who he is and it has allowed him to do what he is doing now. He has always had the mindset of just trying to outwork everybody, every day. He never took anything for granted.”
“I want to keep proving that I can be one of the best receivers in this league and that I can do some things. But it takes work,” Bailey shared. “It takes showing up at 6:30 in the morning to work out.”
See a theme here?
A Roxborough High graduate, Bailey improved dramatically each year at DelVal. “In high school, he was used at tight end. They only split him out every once in a while,” Greco noted. “But you could see that there was ability.

“He played at Roxborough and made his way out,” Greco continued. “He came here and it didn’t come easy to him. But he matured and he excelled. His journey to the next level has been the same.”
Bailey leapt from good to great in his 2014 senior year. An All-American who was mentioned in Sports Illustrated, Bailey grabbed 80 balls – 19 of them for touchdowns – while averaging over 21 yards per catch. He ranks in DelVal’s top three in career catches, yards and receiving touchdowns.
“I wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. Duke Greco was one of the main reasons that I went to DelVal,” Bailey recalled. “He was and he still is a big part of my life. He was consistent. He was persistent. He was like a father figure to me.”
“Rasheed has meant everything to me personally. We have a great relationship and he is a good friend to me. He’s just meant a ton to the program,” Greco shared.
Undrafted, Bailey signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Metro Philadelphia watched Bailey morph into a 2015 Rocky Balboa, the local odds-defying underdog, during the preseason. Bailey caught 10 passes for 100 yards, converting more fans into believers with each additional game.
“Bailey … knows he put forth a complete effort, and that was his goal at the onset. That he made the jump from Division III football to entering the conversation to stick on this 53-man roster or practice squad is icing on his substantial cake,” wrote Dave Spadaro on Philadelphia after the last preseason contest.
But Bailey was one of the Eagles’ final cuts. That started a four-year odyssey which would have disheartened Pollyanna.
He was on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad and ultimately waived. He signed with the then-San Diego Chargers; the Chargers released him due to an ankle injury. He was re-signed by the Eagles and cut. Stints – and cuts – from the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers followed.
“He’s had adversity in his life. He’s had ups and downs. Because he’s had those past experiences, he’s always found a way to get himself out of the hole and succeed. At times, I could sense that he was frustrated and down,” Greco offered, “but if I ever had that conversation with him, by the next morning, he was the focused and ready to go Rasheed. He wills himself to be successful. That is very unique.”
On Aug. 1, 2019 Bailey finally dressed for his first regular season pro game as Winnipeg was nipped at Toronto. Five weeks later, he made the first start, catching six passes in a 35-10 win over Winnipeg’s archrival, the Roughriders.
Bailey started the final seven contests of Winnipeg’s 2019 season; three were playoff games. When Winnipeg thumped the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 to win the 107th Grey Cup (yes, the Grey Cup precedes the National Football League), Bailey caught two balls as the Blue Bombers ended the longest title drought in the CFL.
“My playing in that Grey Cup and all through the playoffs was the cherry on top,” Bailey recalled. “We won, and I’m not going to lie. I cried. I cried because I had worked so hard and it felt like that piece of the puzzle was just the beginning.”
Just when 2020 looked so promising, and Bailey’s road seemed wide open, along came another detour: COVID. The CFL canceled its entire 2020 season due to the pandemic.
“A lot of us were hurt,” Bailey admitted. “We’re coming off of the Grey Cup year and getting that big ring. I thought ‘This is finally happening!’ But it allowed me to fall in love with something else.” In 2020, Bailey worked and taught at Doc Strong Fitness in Southampton. He discovered that he loved teaching and motivational speaking.
The pandemic did not deter Winnipeg from giving Bailey a one-year contract extension this past January. A full season of Bailey has been a huge asset as the Blue Bombers gear up to defend their CFL title.
“I am a believer. I’m a Christian. When I find myself in bad situations or situations that I don’t think I can come out of, my faith holds me,” Bailey shared. “I’m the type of guy who is going to put his head down and just work.”
Bailey recently returned to Philly – and DelVal – during Winnipeg’s bye week. It was an emotional homecoming as Bailey had the high of visiting his mother, recently recovered from COVID, while at the same time mourning the loss of a cousin.
His appearance and pregame speech at the DelVal-Lebanon Valley game, where Greco become the Aggies’ all-time winningest coach, was “special. Those kids at Division III don’t have that much hope of going to play at the next level,” Bailey said. “For me to always show up back there gives some of them hope that: ‘I can be right where you are. I can do something better.’”
“The only break we take during the season is to try and take an hour and watch (Rasheed),” Greco shared.
“Hopefully you can touch somebody,” Bailey concluded. “Hopefully, you can inspire somebody to never give up and always keep going.”