By Les Shapiro, C-Host Afternoon Drive with Goodman & Shapiro, FOX31 Sports Contributor
In March of 2004, the Denver Broncos traded away one of the NFL’s top running backs, Clinton Portis, to the Washington Redskins.
In return, the Broncos received a good, young cornerback, Roland “Champ” Bailey. Many in Broncos country were bewildered by the move. Portis, an electric Pro Bowl running back, for a corner? Why? Well, it was quickly apparent.
Champ Bailey turned out to be a force, a dominating defensive player and one of the few “shutdown corners” in the game. So good for so long, he was named to the NFL’s 2000 All-Decade Team. But he wasn’t just a shutdown corner. He was also an impeccable tackler — a stopper in the run game, as well.
Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, who made the trade, said the thing that stood out about Bailey was “his ability to outrun the receiver and the ball.” Bailey could stay with a speedy pass catcher and he could close on the ball, no matter how hard or deep it was thrown. No receiver or quarterback could outsmart him either — his coaches said his football IQ was off the charts.
Bailey’s leadership skills were just as sharp. He didn’t force his personality on the locker room or the film room. If a teammate, young or old, wanted advice, he would take that teammate aside and quietly share his knowledge. He practiced hard every day and let his play do the talking.
Bailey exuded class, on and off the field. There were no histrionics after any of his 52 career interceptions (34 of which came with the Broncos). There was no diva like behavior, there were no outrageous demands made after any of his 12 Pro Bowl seasons (eight with the Broncos) —the most in league history for a cornerback. His athletic ability was so stunning — at the NFL combine, he ran a 4.28-second,40-yard dash and had a 42-inch vertical jump — the Broncos and Redskins even allowed him to play wide receiver at times. (He finished with four career receptions.)
Bailey spent 10 seasons as a Denver Bronco and he provided some of the most memorable moments in club history. Who can forget the 100-yard interception return in the 2006 playoff game against the New England Patriots? (Tom Brady won’t forget it!) In 2005 and 2009, he didn’t give up a touchdown pass — either season. In 2006, he was runner-up for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.
It was an incredible 15-year-career, 10 of which were spent in a Denver Broncos uniform. Roland “Champ” Bailey certainly lived up to his nickname. And for that, tonight he enters the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
When I look back, I’m glad I grew up in a small town. There, it’s just you, your family, and whatever you make of it.