Bombers receiver Bailey does things the hard way and that’s just the way he wants it

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HAMILTON — Shortly after last Sunday’s West final, amid the confusion that came with the celebration of a hard-fought win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, receiver Rasheed Bailey arrived late for the presentation of the trophy awarded to the division champions.

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He approached the Norm Fieldgate Trophy, which was sitting on a table near the end zone at IG Field, and reached out to feel it with his fingers.

He clearly didn’t know about the superstition many teams have about not touching any trophy but the one that makes you league champions — in this case, the Grey Cup — and his reach for this piece of hardware drew a quick rebuke from one of his teammates.

Offensive lineman Pat Neufeld barked at him, “Hey, hey!” and Bailey quickly withdrew his hand.

“I came close and I think I did touch it,” Bailey said at media day for the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton on Thursday. “I didn’t even hear (Neufeld) but I got some dirty looks, I’ll tell you.

“I didn’t even know what was going on. It was an extremely emotional situation and I didn’t know what had happened. I came to the huddle late and I thought everybody was touching it.”

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Bailey has been hearing from his teammates for a few days now — it sounds like good-natured ribbing — about the faux pas. It’s really a fallacy that players have — the assumption being that it’s bad karma to touch a division championship trophy because it’s not the one you want — but there are many believers.

“I’m not sure about it,” said Bailey, whose team will play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Sunday’s Grey Cup.

“I didn’t know that tradition. If it’s a hockey thing maybe it’s the Canadian way. I learned the Canadian way, the hard way.

“But it’s not gonna matter. There were a few jokes about it but it’s not gonna determine whether we win or lose.”

If the Bombers get their hands on the Grey Cup on Sunday, it is likely Bailey will play a significant role. A 28-year-old receiver from Philadelphia, Bailey played his first full season as a pro in 2021.

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He had 52 catches for 629 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season and had three more catches for 53 yards and a TD in the West final.

“I haven’t felt important like this in a long time,” said Bailey, who spent time on seven pro practice rosters (six in the NFL), but never played a game, before joining the Bombers in 2019.

“It feels like I did back in college, when I was heavily involved and coaches are talking to you in meetings regularly. That part feels good. For any athlete, and for anybody who is fighting for a spot, to make a name for themselves, it’s important to know that sometimes it takes two years, three years, four years. Sometimes it takes seven.”

It has been a very difficult year for Bailey. His mother was sick with COVID-19 for a time and his family endured a tragedy when his 12-year-old cousin, Symphony, died of an allergic reaction in August.

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All that occurred while he was away playing football in Canada and wasn’t able to get home because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Always a tremendously emotional player and person, Bailey has channelled all of that into his play on the field and has been an important weapon for the Bombers. His touchdown last week illustrated his desire, as he fought through several tacklers to dive forward and get the football to the goal line.

“For me, all of this is going to be used to inspire somebody,” Bailey said. “It’s not about what I did or what I can do. It’s to prove that, when you go through life, it’s just gonna take time for it to get better. If you persevere and you believe in God, great things will happen.”

Bailey is already a Grey Cup champion as he was part of the Bombers’ playoff run in 2019. He would love to repeat that feat on Sunday, but he’s putting that into perspective in light of the way things have gone in the world lately.

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“No matter if it happens or not, I’m just so grateful to be here,” Bailey said. “I don’t take any day for granted.

“I’ve been through so much, and it’s not about me, but all of us have been through stuff. I’m just the one who’s openly willing to say it out loud. I make it a priority do to those things so it makes it a priority for other men to say ‘I’m going through this, I’m feeling this and I’m willing to share it.’

“I’m willing to wear my emotions on my sleeve just for the next man to feel like he can share his love, share his passion and share his hurt, too. That’s what playing football and that’s what speaking out means to me. There’s a reason for why I do what I do. To see guys pick it up and understand why I’m the way I am, it’s special.”

Although his road to professional football was long and full of pitfalls, it almost seems like Bailey wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve worked very hard for this and that’s the biggest thing I want people to know — it takes hard work to be in this position,” he said.

“I don’t want people to see the results and think ‘He just got there.’

“Nah, it was a long road and it’s all gonna be worth it.”

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