Dec 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
One of the toughest things this generation has had to endure is watching Champ Bailey walk away from the game he was so good at for so many years, a game in which he built a legend as arguably the best cornerback in league history with our team, the Denver Broncos.
As tough as that is, it’s incredible reading his words now after his career is done, and what he thinks of the team after being released and testing the market, only to be released again by the New Orleans Saints before the season. Per ESPN’s Jeff Legwold, Bailey has no hard feelings toward the Broncos. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“They’re just fantastic, man. I’m cheering them every weekend,’’ Bailey said. “I’m still a Broncos fan, I’m not going to lie. Regardless of how it went down, I’m always going to be a Bronco. They had a lot of faith in me, I hope they win it all, and they look good enough to do it. I still talk to a lot of those guys and want them to have it all.’’
Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, fittingly had a chance to play for a Super Bowl in what wound up being his final season as a professional. Bailey had never played in a Super Bowl before, but came close in the year that he was arguably the most dominant defender over a single season that this league has seen.
The Broncos made it to the AFC Championship game in the 2006 season, ironically the last time they were able to beat the New England Patriots in New England (with Jake “The Snake” Plummer at QB). Bailey had a remarkable stretch over the course of those prime years with the Broncos, including making a game-altering play against the Patriots in a playoff game to essentially shift momentum Denver’s way for the rest of the game, paving the way for them to be the first team to beat Tom Brady in the playoffs.
At the time, Brady was 10-0.
Now, during Patriots week, Bailey announces his retirement, perhaps pushing momentum Denver’s way once again. The Broncos will have a formal ceremony for Bailey on November 18th, and rightfully so. Bailey’s five year countdown to Canton started the minute he filed for retirement with the league, and he’ll take his place among Broncos greats in the Ring of Fame, Hall of Fame, and heck, he might even get himself a bust outside the stadium next to guys like John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, and Terrell Davis.
And yes, he was THAT good.
Just because Bailey didn’t win a Super Bowl doesn’t mean he’s not a Denver Broncos legend. Perhaps he won’t have his number retired, but I find it interesting that in all the moves the Broncos made at running back and in the defensive backfield this year, not one player took the number 24. It’s still vacant as I type this.
That’s a huge sign of respect for a guy like Bailey, who solidified his status as an elite playmaker for a decade and a half. What a superstar, and how fortunate for Broncos fans that we were able to enjoy watching it all.
A huge Mile High salute to a guy who will always be a Bronco in our eyes, too. Thanks, Champ.