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Bailey dons cape, saves the day

Walk-on kicker walks into Longhorn lore.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

LINCOLN, Neb. — According to his very brief bio in the Texas football media guide, Ryan Bailey's favorite superhero is Superman.

Of course.

Dave Weaver

Ryan Bailey watches his game-winning kick ring true on Saturday. His first collegiate field goal provided a win over Nebraska.

ati Harnik

Texas' Ryan Bailey, right, sends the game-winner over Nebraska defenders in the closing seconds.

Who else would an anonymous place-kicker revere but a comic-book hero of mythical proportions who routinely saved the world?

Texas found its own savior buried on a depth chart. And the backup, backup kicker responded with a game-winning, 22-yard field goal in the closing seconds to snatch victory from Nebraska's hopeful hearts and resuscitate the prospects for another Longhorns championship season.

Careful, Ryan Bailey, your cape is showing.

For that matter, so is Texas' magic.

The football program that gave you Dusty Mangum and David Pino of Rose Bowl fame now presents an unflappable, sophomore walk-on who had never set foot on a college field and never booted a winning field goal in high school.

He'd kicked only 10 field goals in his career at Austin's Anderson High. His first in college promises to be a slightly memorable one.

With the wind and snow flurries in his face and most of the 85,187 fans screaming in his ear, Bailey kicked his way into the Longhorn history books.

"It took Dusty Mangum four years to be a hero," Texas coach Mack Brown told Bailey before the kick, referencing the senior who kicked a 37-yard field goal to beat Michigan on the last play of the 2005 Rose Bowl. "You're going to be one with one kick. You're lucky."

Bailey and the Longhorns were better than lucky. They were good enough to hang on with a determined comeback in the final minute for a wild, 22-20 victory over feisty, 17th-ranked Nebraska.

This was a game fifth-ranked Texas had no business losing but very nearly did, as Nebraska almost big-played the Longhorns to death. The Cornhuskers couldn't run as far as their noses, averaging 1.6 yards a carry, but each Big Red pass netted a hair under 19 yards a completion, in one of the most frenetic games these eyes have seen.

However, Texas still had the necessary kicker and karma against the Cornhuskers, who had better bring a stake and a hammer the next time they oppose the Horns.

Texas had red-zone meltdowns, but the Big Red had the final collapse. Comeback king Vince Young was in the house, but Colt McCoy was in the huddle. And Young's successor continued to amaze with pinpoint passing and a resolute spirit that is stamping him as every bit the wizard as the former Longhorn quarterback.

The college football world is getting to know this talented redshirt freshman leader, who is 3-0 in comeback games after taking the Texas offense downfield for the stirring win.

Bailey brought a new character into this potential storybook season. He replaced the injured and ineffective Greg Johnson, who missed two field goals and an extra point, at least in part because of a pulled groin.

Enter a 19-year-old who played wide receiver and cornerback, punted and kicked at Anderson. The surprising fact isn't that his biography is so brief. It's that he even had one.

Here's the real kicker to the story: when asked if Bailey was on the team last season, Brown winced and said, "I don't know."

Everybody now knows the tall, dark-haired advertising major.

Bailey had talked to some Division III schools, such as Mary Hardin-Baylor, but came to Texas as "a preferred walk-on" after sending a tape to Longhorn special-teams coordinator Mike Tolleson.

In case Bailey doesn't have a Myspace page, you should know he kicked six of seven field goals as a senior at Anderson. His longest was 47 yards. He loves watching "Family Guy" on TV. His parents weren't at the game, and he hadn't talked to a soul from home although his cell phone "has been buzzing in my pocket."

His teammates said they knew Bailey, but that's about the extent of it.

"I could pick him out of a lineup," offensive guard Justin Blalock said. "I don't think you're going to hear anyone say they hang out with kickers."

Maybe before Saturday. For the record, Bailey doesn't have a girlfriend, but defensive end Tim Crowder said, "He can choose now."

And who could blame Brown for not knowing that Bailey was on the team last season. Bailey is one of 10 kickers on the roster and was making just his second road trip.

"I was along for the ride," he said.

He was until Johnson pulled up lame.

Brown has never been fond of recruiting scholarship kickers. He's had only five in his nine seasons at Texas. Three of them were in Lincoln. Freshman Hunter Lawrence lost his redshirt last week and is handling kickoffs. Johnson was handling punts and place-kicking until his injury. The other, Trevor Gerland, punted once.

In all, Texas suited up five kickers Saturday, a curious number given the traveling squad is limited to 64 players. But Brown had considered using the reliable Bailey last week against Baylor before Johnson felt up to the task, and the coach was fully confident Bailey would nail the game-winner.

As Brown said with a wry smile, "He's never missed."

A Superman never does.

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