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.” 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!