Champ Bailey played his college football at the University of Georgia where he displayed ball hawking skills and a 4.28 time in the forty yard dash. “His game is as good as his name,” Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe said. “When the ball is in his hands, something is going to happen, and it's going to be something good. The only question about him is how he's going to be used at the NFL level. He's so good and such a catalyst that there is going to be a natural temptation to do too much with Champ.” (1)
The 6’ 192 pound Bailey was selected with pick seven in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. “I was about 8 when I realized I could make it to the pros,” Bailey said. “I was way better than guys my age. I was a skinny kid, and I knew I had to grow a little bit. But I knew I could do it if I got bigger, stronger and faster.” (1)
Champ Bailey’s given name was Roland Bailey, but his mother nicknamed him Champ at a young age. “People would talk about me and my name all the time, saying I couldn't be all that good,” Bailey said. “But nobody could say anything for long, because they knew I was faster and better than they were. It's happened everywhere. I'm sure I'll get teased about it my first couple of years in the NFL.” (1)
Champ Bailey to the Redskins
When Champ Bailey arrived in Washington, the Redskins had Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green playing on the other side of the field. Green served as a mentor and Champ Bailey caught on quickly in Washington. “I told him that he can glean more from me than I can say to him,” Darrell Green recalled later. “In the old days, people who picked crops left some behind for others to take. I told him to take what he wanted from me, that when he was ready to talk, I would be here.” (1) During his rookie season Bailey had 5 interceptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. He also recorded a sack on a corner blitz.
The Washington Redskins travelled to the desert to play the Arizona Cardinals on October 17, 1999. After the Cardinals took a 3-0 lead, Champ Bailey intercepted back to back Jake Plummer passes, returning the first one intended for David Boston 59 yards for a touchdown. “That's a huge play by Champ,” said defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson. “That was an uplift for everybody.” (2) With Champ Bailey’s three interceptions on the day, the Redskins defeated the Cardinals 24-10.
Champ Bailey - Shutdown Cornerback
Finding a shutdown corner is tough to do. Before Bailey, Deion Sanders was the definition of a shutdown corner. Bailey might lack the flash of Sanders, but the innate cockiness is there. “I don't have any secrets really,” Bailey said during training camp. “I am what I am, and you watch film and if you can beat it, then good. I don't think a lot of guys can beat it, though. I know what I'm doing.” (3) After earning his reputation with the Redskins, Bailey was traded to the Denver Broncos. “He's impressed me,” Denver safety Kenoy Kennedy said. “I've seen him make plays that I haven't seen anybody make, even watching highlights on ESPN. I've seen him take balls from guys when they've had it and thought they caught it, and he's going the other way. He can do it all.” (3)
So how does a shutdown corner approach the game? “He doesn't care who it is from a rookie free agent, first-rounder, Pro Bowler, he's going to cover them the same way,” assistant defensive backs coach Jimmy Spencer added. “That's been amazing to me.”
How would you define a shutdown corner? Secondary coach David Gibbs views the term as someone “who wins nine out of 10 times in man coverage,” adding that “whether they throw him the football or not is irrelevant.” Spencer sees it as someone who can cover so well “you don't have to worry about that side of the field because it's locked down.” (3) Bailey was a shutdown corner for the Broncos in 2005 and 2006 where he recorded 18 interceptions. Wow!
Champ Bailey in the Running Game
Not only can Champ Bailey take away a team’s best receiver, he also plays the run as well as any cornerback in the league. He is quick to diagnose the play and slashes towards the running back to make the tackle. This is where Champ Bailey separates himself from most other corners in the NFL.
Champ Bailey Picks off Brady in Playoffs
During the 2005 NFL season, Champ Bailey had interception returns for touchdowns against the Chargers and the Cowboys to help the Broncos win those games. As special as those plays were, the paled in comparison to what happened during the Divisional Playoffs when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots travelled to Denver to play the Broncos.
During the final news conference before New England's AFC divisional playoff game against the Broncos, Brady was asked a question about cornerback Champ Bailey. “Yeah, every time I throw over there, I'm really going to make sure I'm careful,” Brady said. I guess Tom Brady should have listened to his own advice. (4)
The Patriots faced a third down and goal at the 5-yard line, trailing 10- 6. New England's formation was familiar to Broncos cornerbacks Bailey and Darrent Williams. During the game, each time two Patriots receivers lined up close to each other on one side of the ball, the outside receiver would run at the inside cornerback and screen him. The inside receiver would be open. This is the same play the Patriots ran here. "I anticipated that before it even happened," Bailey said of the biggest play in Denver's 27-13 win, one of the biggest of the season and, Bailey thinks, the biggest of his career. "I've had better interceptions, as far as making it look better," Bailey said. "As far as the impact on the game, that's probably one of my best." (5)
Right before the play, Bailey yelled to Williams, "In and out." Instead of sticking with their men, Bailey would stay outside and Williams would take the inside. They talked about that switch on the sideline early in the game. The play happened just as Bailey thought. Receiver Troy Brown crossed with outside receiver David Givens. Brown ran outside and Bailey ran in step with him. Bailey intercepted Tom Brady's pass and returned it 100 yards to New England's 1-yard line. Denver scored on the next play to increase its lead to 17-6. "I think my confidence enabled me to make that play," Bailey said. "I think any corner with skills as good as mine or almost as good as mine could make that play. But sometimes they don't have the confidence." (5)
Champ Bailey’s Career
To this point, Champ Bailey has had a fine career. He has been a shutdown corner who also plays the run with aggressiveness. It is likely that Canton will be calling five years after he retires from the NFL.
By A. Goodin, 20Yardline.com
Champ Bailey Biography Sources
(1) A GAME AS GOOD AS HIS NAME CHAMP BAILEY'S TALENTS HAVE HAD CROWDS LINING UP FOR YEARS - AT PRACTICE (1999, April 24) The Virginian Pilot