Simply the Best: Champ Bailey Retires


Oct 13, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Former Denver Broncos cornerback, Champ Bailey announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday. Despite reportedly having interest from a couple of playoff contending teams, the 12 time Pro Bowler hung up his cleats for good. His next step is in Canton, Ohio. The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bailey was acquired by the Broncos in a blockbuster trade in 2004 with the Washington Redskins. It’s the kind of player for player trade that you rarely see in the NFL and while it probably worked out for both teams, the Broncos easily won the trade.

The Broncos sent running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins for Bailey. Portis was coming off three outstanding seasons for the Broncos and the trade was met with a great deal of criticism at the time. People questioned how could a cornerback, even a great one, have the same impact of a 1,500 yard rusher? Those questions may have been valid with any other cornerback in that day and age, but Bailey was not just any other cornerback.

Bailey played well in his first season as a Bronco but the season ended the same way as the previous one, a blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs. The critics were back in full force because Bailey was brought in specifically to help the Broncos when facing the likes of Peyton Manning. What followed in 2005 was special and has to be one of the top seasons by a cornerback in NFL history.

The Broncos finally broke through the 10 win and wildcard barrier to win the AFC West with a 13-3 record. The numbers Bailey put up in that season were and are astounding. He was targeted 35 times, had 10 interceptions and only 4 passes were completed on him. Every one of those numbers is special in its own right.

To only be targeted 35 times over a 16 game schedule tells you how good Bailey was and how teams stayed away from him. Despite only being targeted 35 times, Bailey still had 10 interceptions. That’s an unreal ratio, and the 4 completions is something beyond words.

The numbers are great but they only tell a part of the story, it’s when those interceptions took place that tell the rest of the story. In a game versus the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day in 2005, the Broncos were in a tight game and the Cowboys were driving. Just over midfield, the Cowboy quarterback threw a simple out route and led his receiver too much. It should have been incomplete, it was a safe pass with the linebacker trailing behind the receiver. The Cowboys quarterback forgot to account for the greatness of Bailey.

Bailey was covering his receiver on the same side of the field, read the play and left his receiver. When the ball floated wide of the mark, Bailey was there and returned it down the sideline for a touchdown. The play changed the momentum of the game and the Broncos went onto win in overtime to improve to 9-2 on the season.

Bailey’s signature play with the Broncos came two months later in a divisional playoff game versus the New England Patriots. The Broncos were leading 10-6 but the Patriots were inside the five yard line and threatening to take the lead, and control of the game.

Tom Brady moved to his right looking for a receiver and threw, and Bailey was there waiting. He read the play and simply ran the route better than the receiver, and picked the pass off. The turnover was big but the 99 yard return that followed all but sealed the game for the Broncos. Bailey ran out of gas as he got to the one yard line but his play set the Broncos up with first and goal. Running back Mike Anderson took it in on the next play and the Broncos went on to a comfortable 27-13 win.

In an age where cornerbacks talk and want everyone to know they are the best in the game, Bailey was the opposite. He never boasted about himself and always put the team first. While he didn’t talk like the cornerbacks of today, this much is true.

In his prime, Bailey was better than all of them. He did it with class while never feeling the need to disparage his opponents. The only regret for the Broncos and their fans is we could not get Bailey that Super Bowl ring he spent his whole career pursing.

Bailey missed out on the ring but the Gold Jacket is a lock. Champ Bailey is a Hall of Famer on and off the field.