Sept. 12, 2004: the opening Sunday Night Football game of the NFL season.
Champ Bailey was starting his first game as a Denver Bronco after a trade with the Washington Redskins for Clinton Portis and a second-round draft pick. During that game, Champ intercepted a Trent Green pass, which was his first of many as a Bronco.
Tuesday, the All-Pro cornerback announced his decision to retire from the league. It was a bittersweet day for football fans; there’s a distinct sting that pains the chest when the word “retire” comes from the mouth of such a beloved player like Champ Bailey. But it also brings to memory all of the moments in which we were privileged enough to watch such an elite player perform his craft.
The year 2004 doesn’t sound like it was all that long ago, but Bailey spent an entire decade in Denver. That’s two-thirds of his long 15-year career. To put that in perspective, Usher’s song “Yeah!” was the top billboard song at that time. Out of those 15 years, Bailey was deemed a Pro-Bowler 12 times, the most of any cornerback in NFL history.
Bailey, now 36, recorded 34 interceptions in Denver alone, and his career total is 52. In 2005-06, he recorded a two-season total of 18 interceptions, three of which were run back for touchdowns. Following those seasons, Bailey saw a lot less action, as opposing quarterbacks wouldn’t dare throw it his way more than two or three times a game.
It’s not his pass coverage ability alone that sets him apart, though.
I started my little league football career as a cornerback, and I remember coaches constantly referring to Bailey’s style of tackling when teaching safe, effective techniques. Arguably one of the best open-field tacklers to ever play the game, he rarely ducked his head down to crown ball carriers. Instead, Champ utilized the wrap-up-and-roll technique, which made him an exceptional role model for young players on the field.
Off the field, he exhibits role model qualities by sponsoring charities like the Boys and Girls clubs and the Denver Rescue Mission, along with a plethora of other volunteer organizations.
And though he never has been able to put a Super Bowl ring on, Roland Bailey Jr. has certainly earned his nickname. Before there was Beast Mode, Megatron or Johnny Football, Champ Bailey was rocking the nickname bestowed upon him by his mother when he was a teenager.
He may not be a world champ in football, as the Broncos 2014 loss to Seattle was his first Super Bowl appearance, but the way Champ Bailey carries himself on and off the gridiron is the epitome of a champ. I’m sure it would be difficult to find anyone who played with him or coached him who would argue otherwise.
There is no doubt that a player like Bailey will have a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio, one day. Players like him just don’t come around too often.
So farewell, Champ. Thanks for the memories.
Thanks for keepin’ track with Zac.
Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Zac Koch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @zactkoch