Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) is tackled by Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) during the first half during the 2013 AFC championship playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Champ Bailey is everything that makes the Denver Broncos what they are. He’s the epitome of Broncos Country and what it means to put on that orange jersey.
Oh, by the way, he’s one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the game. But you would never hear him say that. Unlike most of the cornerbacks since Deion Sanders, Bailey let his play talk for him.
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And that’s all that needed to be said.
The single greatest season a cornerback has had in the NFL came in 2006 courtesy of Bailey.
He was thrown at 35 times.
He intercepted 10.
He allowed four receptions.
It doesn’t take a genius in math to know that’s incredible.
If it was a current cornerback who put up a season like that, could you imagine how loud and obnoxious they would become? They would hunt for any camera to unload their latest sound bite and shout how great they are.
To play a position like defensive back in the NFL, at any level, you have to think that way. You have to know no one will beat you. No one is better than you. Even if you get beat, it was a fluke.
Oct 13, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) defends on Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (32) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Think it, don’t say it.
The great ones know they’re great. They don’t have to beg for attention or tell everyone how great they are. As noted above, they just know it.
The confidence they exude is on the field. They may trash talk, but it’s between the lines where (most of the time) it’s between competitors in the middle of the action.
That’s who Bailey is. And that’s who he was throughout his entire career.
Win or lose, he was the leader of the Broncos locker room. He was open. He was honest.
He never ducked the tough questions. He didn’t bask in the wins and eat up the spotlight only to duck like a coward if things didn’t go right and his team lost.
Dawn of the Dawg
The “C” on Bailey’s jersey actually meant something to him. He knew he was the face of Denver’s organization the minute he arrived in 2004.
Up until that point, Broncos Country and the Broncos were hungover from the retirement of John Elway and back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
We were still trying to come to grips with the sudden and devastating retirement of Terrell Davis.
The expectation was Super Bowls and Denver didn’t seem close.
Then Bailey showed up. Not since Louis Wright did the Broncos have a cornerback like him. He was one of the best in the game who made your defense not just better, but great.
Bailey was now the replacement for Elway, Davis and the guys from the magical seasons of the late 1990s.
Ten years later, if you were to list off the Mount Rushmore of Broncos, Bailey would see his name included in the discussion.
He will end up in the Ring of Fame and his plaque in Memorial Plaza.
Bailey is a first-ballot Hall of Famer – though until it happens and we see it, Broncos Country should remain leary given how the voters have ignored and disrespected the Broncos of the past. Color me skeptical until I see Bailey on the stage in Canton, Ohio.
Bailey is one of the best to ever play the position. In my mind, he’s better than Sanders – on and off the field.
One reason why is because Bailey doesn’t have to say it. He just knows it. He let his play on the field do the talking for him.
Now that’s a man the NFL should rise up and want to rep “The Shield.”
Even if he doesn’t want it, Bailey is who I would want my kids to emulate.
And that speaks to what we really celebrate as Bailey closes the chapter on a career we will never forget.
He’s an even better man.
Jan 28, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey speaks to the media during Media Day for Super Bowl XLVIII at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports