Best of Times

Steve Bailey recalls a play reminiscent of a scene from the movie Best of Times. "It was first and goal on the three (yard line) and I rolled out on an out pattern," said Bailey. "I cut and tried making a finger-tip catch." The pass was incomplete. The next play the ball was fumbled and the Ducks went on to lose a game to Illinois 20-16. The game was played on September 19, 1970, and Bailey agonized over the play for years afterwards.

Bailey realized later that he had made his cut on the play along the base of the letter "I" as in Illinois, however at the time of the play Bailey thought he had reached the boundary of the end zone. He had cut too early and perhaps had he gone farther into the end zone he may have been able to make the catch and ultimately the Duck could have won the game. Thirty-two years later the play has settled into its proper place in Bailey's memories of his experiences at Oregon.

Bailey, who graduated from Oregon in 1972 with a degree in Political Science, was recruited as a quarterback out of Beaverton High School in 1968, but ended up playing tight end and punter at Oregon. He was a star for the Beaverton Beavers, and was recruited by the likes of Notre Dame, Purdue, Washington and Oregon State. Bailey also considered entering a military academy as the Air Force Academy and West Point had approached him. The University of Oregon though was the place for him.

"I started going to Oregon home games when I was a sophomore," said Bailey. "I felt like I was a Duck since high school."

Phil McHugh, an assistant to then Oregon Head Coach Jerry Frei, recruited Bailey out of high school. McHugh was at Oregon from 1958 to 1968. The Ducks had hopes and goals of going to the Rose Bowl. Bailey recalls that the coaching staff for Oregon was outstanding. Names that later would become famous in the coaching ranks such as John Robinson, George Seifert, John Marshall and Bruce Snyder were at Oregon with Frei.

Frei, who was the head coach at Oregon from 1967 through 1971, was a different type of coach according to Bailey. Frei, who was a P-38 fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, came to Oregon in 1955 and was an assistant coach to the legendary Len Casanova. Bailey described an incident that demonstrates what kind of person Frei was. Steve suffered a concussion prior to Oregon's road trip to Nebraska in 1971 and the injury put Bailey's football career in jeopardy. Oregon traveled to Nebraska to open the season without Bailey and despite very high expectations going into the 1971 season, the Ducks were soundly beaten by the Huskers, 34-7. It was a very disappointing opening game for Jerry Frei, yet upon returning to Eugene the head coach immediately visited Bailey and told him not to worry about his scholarship.

"You study and get your degree, that is the most important thing," Frei told Steve.

Bailey was moved to punter and remained part of the team.

During the time Frei was head coach at Oregon the times as Bob Dylan wrote were a changin'. In the late 60s and early 70s a lottery draft pick meant someone was going into the army. Ahmad Rashad told writer Ken Shouler that Frei was more interested in them (the players) turning out to be successful human beings rather than successful football players. Frei died on February 16, 2001. He left the head-coaching job at Oregon after refusing to dismiss his assistant coaches, and the whole incident of the firing still remains a controversial topic among Duck fans. Many feel that Frei did not receive the necessary backing from then Athletic Director Norv Ritchie against alumni and boosters who were extremely disappointed in the Ducks on-field performance. Frei's record at Oregon was 22-29-2. The best season was the 1970 season with a record of 6-4-1, including wins over USC and UCLA. During Frei's tenure at Oregon, the Ducks beat USC twice in four meetings (1970, 1971) Washington three times in five games (1968, 1969, 1971) but lost five straight times to Oregon State. Frei went on to assistant coaching positions in the NFL and scouting for the Denver Broncos.

"We were a team capable of beating anyone," said Bailey. "But we could also break everyone's heart."

The team had several players go onto successful NFL careers including NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. NFL Pro Bowler turned television personality Ahmad Rashad (known during his time at Oregon as Bobby Moore,) Chuck Bradley, Tom Drouges. Tim Stokes, Tom Graham, Leland Glass, John McKean, Bob Newland, Jack Stambaugh, Tom Blanchard, Lionel Coleman, Andy Maurer, Jim Evenson, Alan Pitcaithley, and Claxton Welch all were drafted from Oregon during the time Bailey was at the University. In 1968, the year Bailey was recruited to Oregon, Frei's coaching staff recruited 54 players to wear the Green and Yellow. The team was a hard working, blue-collar type team. Looking back at the team, Bailey also remembers lots of enthusiasm and effort. Coming to Oregon was a big jump from high school and Bailey recalls the transition.

"When you get recruited, you are put together with other stars and you have to start all over," said Bailey.

1968 also was the first year Autzen Stadium was opened. In fact, Bailey claims his son Jeff learned to walk on the turf of Autzen Stadium. Interestingly in 1990, Jim Sweeney recruited Jeff Bailey to play football for Fresno State. Sweeney had been involved recruiting Steve while coaching at Washington State in 1968. Steve Bailey had hoped Jeff Bailey could play at Oregon. During the recruiting process Steve actually talked to Denny Schuler, who was the defensive coordinator for Rich Brooks at Oregon, about Jeff playing for the Ducks, but the Ducks had run out of available scholarships. As it turned out, the day after Jeff had given a commitment to Fresno State, Schuler called and asked if Jeff was interested in walking on. Jeff decided he would stand by his commitment to Fresno State. Steve points out that it seems things always work out for the best and not necessarily on the football field. Jeff ended up in the best place for him, and Steve proudly mentions his two grandchildren as a result of Jeff's marriage to Liz, a girl he met at FSU. While at Fresno State, Jeff played for Jeff Tedford who was offensive coordinator at Fresno State. Tedford would later act in the same capacity at Oregon, and is now the head coach at Cal.

Bailey and his wife Jeannette have three other children besides Jeff (who is now 31,) Megan, 25 (who had just become engaged,) Jeanne Marie, 25, and Cristina, 20, who is still living at home but is attending Fullerton College.

The best Duck memories for Bailey includes what he considers one of the greatest Oregon victories of all time, the 1970 UCLA game. Playing before a big home crowd the Bruins had built a big lead over the Webfoots late in the game, but the scrappy Ducks came storming back to win a last second 41-40 thriller. Another career highlight for Bailey was catching a touchdown pass thrown by Ahmad Rashad against Washington.

"The play swept right and it was like catching a punt," said Bailey of Rashad's pass. "It barely came down in time to catch."

True to form though, the Ducks of that timeframe ended up losing the game 25-23 when quarterback Fouts fumbled the ball and the Huskies moved the ball down the field to kick a winning field goal. Fouts, now hosts a get together of the old teammates, and they call their reunions the "Annual Central Oregon Cascade Klam Bake." This year Bailey came to Oregon on June 25th to rejoin his former comrades. Bailey was able to see old friends including Harvey Winn, who Bailey says, "could still play if he (Winn) was 6-4."

Bailey thinks Rich Brooks (who recruited Bailey to play at OSU) is the main man responsible for the current condition of success at Oregon. Brooks got the ball rolling and hired Mike Bellotti. Brooks also took the Ducks to the 1994 Rose Bowl, marking the first Pac-10 Conference championship for Oregon in 37 years. Since 1994, Bellotti has coached the Ducks to two more conference championships.

It was during the 1994 Rose Bowl that Bailey and his son Jeff were taking their seats and when Bailey turned and looked across the aisle, there sat his old coach, Phil McHugh.

"I told you we'd make it to the Rose Bowl," McHugh told Bailey. "It's just a little later than I thought."

Bailey is active in the Orange County, California Duck Club. Bailey is co-chairman of the membership committee. A few years ago only five or six people would show up to their meetings. Now they have 25-30 showing up. More success for the Ducks probably means more new folks showing up to the Orange County Duck Club.

Bailey is also a regular on the eDuck message boards and goes by the nickname bailes72. Bailey hopes to return to Eugene this fall for a game in the expanded Autzen Stadium. In the new stadium Bailey is prepared for more good times with old and new friends alike. Being with friends truly is the best of times.

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