WVU Sports Hall of Fame
Written by John Antonik
An outstanding center at WVU from 1915-19, Russ Bailey ranks as one of the finest offensive linemen ever to wear the Gold & Blue. Born September 3, 1899, in Weston, W.Va., Bailey came to the University with Ira Errett Rodgers and Andrew "Rip" King in 1915. That trio helped the Mountaineers to 24 victories over the next five years including an 8-2 record in 1919.
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Paving the way for Rodgers and King, Bailey was an agile center on offense whose crushing blocks and intelligent play earned him rave reviews from some of the most notable people in football.
According to John Heisman in 1928, for who the Heisman Trophy was later named, "Russ Bailey had the unusual knack of being able to snap the ball without watching back between his legs; he could snap accurately while keeping his eyes fastened on the man opposite. This enabled him to charge into the opponent much more quickly and effectively than most centers and at the same time he had a good idea, as he snapped the ball, of the lay-out of the enemy forces. Thus, when he snapped he simultaneously lunged into his man, checked him for a bare instant -- long enough to give his back time to be gone -- then knifing right through the line, again got ahead of his runner."
Standing six feet tall and weighing a solid 180 pounds, Bailey was a fierce tackler on defense as well. He earned first team All-America honors from the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Sun, Pittsburgh Press, New York Evening Journal, Frank G. Menke and A.M. Welland in 1917. After WVU canceled football for the 1918 season because of an outbreak of influenza, Bailey again was accorded first team All-America honors from the Sioux City Tribune and the Philadelphia Press in 1919.
After his stellar career at WVU, Bailey joined Mountaineer assistant coach Elgie Tobin and former teammates Rip King and Harry Harris with the Akron Pros in 1920. Playing in the American Professional Football Association, the precursor to the NFL, Bailey helped the Pros to a 6-0-3 record and the first professional football championship. Playing one more season with the Pros in 1921, Bailey gave up football to pursue a career in medicine.
Considered quiet and serious-minded, Bailey was immensely popular among the WVU student body and ranked high in just about every worthwhile student movement.
After graduating from West Virginia and completing two years of medicine at the University, he went on to complete his degree in medicine at Cincinnati in 1922. After interning at Long Island College, he returned to West Virginia and became a member of the surgical staff at the Wheeling Clinic.
Keenly interested in the treatment of cancer, Bailey was president of the West Virginia Cancer Society and shortly before his death was named director of the American Cancer Society. The crowning event of his career came in August of 1949, when he was named president of the West Virginia State Medical Association, a post he held less than a month. He suffered a heart attack and died in Wheeling on September 15, 1949.