Denver, CO From time to time, we all hear about the former greats who never won a championship. The list typically includes Hall of Famers like Dan Marino, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Ted Williams. There are also plenty of other really good players who never won the big one, and most will admit that it is the one thing they wish they had done before their playing days were over. There will always be players who will, because of their career numbers, be enshrined into the Hall of Fame based solely on their production and impact on their respective sport. There is a player here in Denver who doesn’t want to end up on the list of greats who never won a title. He is one of the quietest superstars in the most popular sport in America. In 15 days, when players report to training camp, he will be doing so for the 14th time in his career. He knows the clock is ticking, and his time to win his first Super Bowl ring is dwindling. He is Champ Bailey, #24 for our Denver Broncos, and one of the greatest cornerbacks the NFL has ever seen.
Denver Broncos fans and NFL fans alike know the name Champ Bailey, and have for over a decade now. We all know he is a great player, as well as a class act on and off the field. For years now, he has been thrown into that elite category of “shut down corners”, for which there are not many throughout the entire league. But because he is a rare breed, a quiet superstar during a time in sports when that is not the rule, he often gets forgotten about when the topic of the best defensive players in the NFL comes up. Another thing that happens to the best of the best at the cornerback position, is they simply don’t get the opportunities to make plays and put up stats that others do. Opposing QB’s and offensive coordinators just avoid going in their direction, in fear of a guy like Bailey making a huge, game changing play. This happened for countless years to players like Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson, and is currently happening to Darrelle Revis. Simply put, there are entire games when they get no action, and therefore are unable to amass any tackles or interceptions. When the game is over, their stat line is not terribly impressive. But the smart fans and players know he just got done shutting down the opposing teams best wide receiver for an entire sixty minutes.
Although most opposing teams have avoided throwing at Champ Bailey’s side of the field shortly after he came into the league in 1999, he has still put up some impressive numbers. He ranks 33rd all-time in interceptions (50) and 3rd when it comes to active players. He has never shied away from contact either, as Bailey has 705 tackles during his career. He was named to the NFL 2000′s All-Decade Team, as one of the two best cornerbacks during that ten year span. But the most impressive accomplishment to me, is the fact that Champ Bailey has been named to 11 Pro Bowls, most for any cornerback in the history of the NFL. The numbers, production at an elite level, and longevity speak volumes about what a truly fabulous career he has already had. He just turned 34 years old a few weeks ago, and if he retired today should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He is in great shape and sounds like he is no rush to call it a career any time soon. Bailey is still one of the best in the game, but father time is undefeated and will undoubtedly come calling at some point in the next few years.
A 34 year old cornerback, trying to match speed and athleticism with receivers who are many times 10+ years younger. That is simply a rarity in the NFL, as only the best of the best CB’s are on NFL rosters at that age. The signing of Peyton Manning could not have come at a better time for Bailey. It says to all current Broncos, their fans, and the rest of the league that Denver wants to win big, and win now. With Manning on board, it has to rejuvenate a player like Champ, who has done it all except win that elusive Super Bowl. Seeing Peyton win his second ring, this time in Broncos orange, would of course be amazing. But seeing Champ Bailey hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time would be even better.