End of an Era: Denver Broncos Release CB Champ Bailey

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) against the San Diego Chargers during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The headline says enough, but this isn’t your run of the mill roster move.

This is a very emotional move for Denver Broncos fans, especially for me. I’m sure everyone has their story or stories about Champ Bailey, but this guy was part of my growing up a fan of the Broncos.

I can still remember sitting in my Pro-Time class in middle school, reading ESPN.com and seeing news that Clinton Portis had been traded to the Redskins for Bailey. The feeling then gave me the same shocked sinking of my gut that I had on Wednesday night, opening up my phone to the news that Bailey had been released by the Broncos, only this time it wasn’t an excited-shocked feeling. I think Bailey himself summed it up best.

“It sucks.”

The Broncos were between a rock and a hard place here, and John Elway, the greatest player in team history had to make the final call to cut the best defensive player in team history. The hard news part if it is, Bailey was owed $10 million this season. There was no way the Broncos were paying that at his age.

But they didn’t even offer a pay cut.

Perhaps that’s for the best. Instead of asking the great Champ Bailey to take a pay cut, they simply allowed him a chance to find another team to finish his playing career with.

Dreams of Bailey riding into the sunset were shattered by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, and dreams of him finishing his career with the Broncos were as well.

Bailey’s presence on the Broncos meant a lot more to me than football, and I’m sure for a lot of you as well. I was probably 14 when the Broncos traded for Bailey, and he was immediately a fan favorite for the Broncos.

I’ve been going to training camp since I was a young pup, back when it was held at the campus of Northern Colorado in Greeley. I remember the olden days of Broncos camp, and only a select few players draw cheers as loud as Bailey coming out of the locker room, but certainly not for as long a period of time as he did.

Dating back to his rookie days, I still remember collecting the former top draft pick’s rookie cards, action shots of him wearing the #4 for the Georgia Bulldogs.

I remember writing a speech in high school about a famous person that I looked up to, presenting a speech about Roland “Champ” Bailey.

I remember drawing pictures of Champ, and praying every year that this would be the year that I would get to meet him when we went out to Denver.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Champ was a hero of mine growing up, and if you are too old for that stuff, certainly every Broncos fan admires the guy for the relentless work he put in, the image he had on and off the field, and the way he devoted his life to the Broncos’ franchise.

I remember the first time I met Champ, back in 2008 at the Broncos’ Fan Fair. He was wearing dark sunglasses, smiling for pictures of all the adoring fans, and signing autographs. Anytime he came near the crowds at practice, fans would shout his name.

I will never forget Bailey’s incredible interception against the Patriots in the 2005-06 playoffs, where he helped propel the Broncos to the AFC title game. I won’t forget the emotion he showed when we learned of Darrent Williams’  tragic death.

I won’t forget the fact that when my eventual wife and I had our first anniversary as a couple in high school, the first Broncos jersey I’d gotten since I was a little kid was a navy blue #24.

I won’t forget Bailey’s incredible season in 2006, when he should have won defensive player of the year over Jason Taylor, but we’ll save that argument for another day.

Most of all, I won’t forget or take for granted the fact that for the last 10 years, the Broncos have been able to rely on Bailey as a top level cornerback, a legendary defensive player in the NFL who locked down one side of the field and provided them with their biggest star on defense in team history.

You know what they used to say: 70 percent of the earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by Champ Bailey.

Revis only gets an island.

This is a very tough move for me to swallow. Champ Bailey has meant a lot to me as a football fan, though he doesn’t even know I exist. He’s been a major part of my passion for the NFL, and specifically for the Denver Broncos.

Even in the darkest years, Bailey gave the Broncos a reason to cheer. Through the different coaches, GMs, and decision makers, Bailey remained. He is the model of class, respect, talent, and character that Broncos fans should be proud of.

So, if you ever get around to reading this, thanks Champ. From one of your biggest fans of all-time, I sincerely wish you nothing but the best, since that’s what you gave to us Broncos fans.

A Mile High Salute and goodbye to a Denver Sports legend. 12-time Pro Bowler, 7-time All-Pro, future Hall of Famer, Ring of Famer, and everything else.

Love ya, Champ.

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