Year after year, season after season, interception after interception and Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has watched the Super Bowl. He’s seen friends play in the game, former teammates, players he respected and a growing pile of players who had been in the league for a far shorter time than he has been.
But not one time in his first 14 seasons in the NFL did Bailey get to play in the league’s title game. Not until this season, when the Broncos earned their Super Bowl spot with a 26-16 victory over the New England Patriots this past Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
“I’m just happy, very happy, to have the chance to play in that game,’’ Bailey said. “It’s what you do this for; it’s where you want to be. All of the individual things are nice, they're great, but playing for a championship, that’s what it’s all about.’’
When reporters for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation conducted a survey of 320 players this past season and the question was asked, “Who’s the player (non-teammate) you’d most like to see in the Super Bowl?’’ most of the Broncos who participated in the survey picked Bailey anyway.
When told they couldn’t pick Bailey, that they have to select a non-teammate, they usually rolled their eyes and picked Bailey again. Such is the 12-time Pro Bowl selection’s standing in the Denver locker room.
But when they finally got around to selecting a non-teammate, most of the Broncos selected Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who played 17 seasons in Kansas City and Atlanta, announced his retirement this past season. The second-highest total from the Broncos who participated in the survey was for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who ended up being the top selection league-wide.
But in the end, those picks were made begrudgingly, with some mild protest. As one of the Broncos said this past Sunday: “I would still pick Champ and then take my vote back right now.’’