ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Former Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey retired last year, but he certainly hasn’t been forgotten by those he played alongside -- and against -- in his career.
Bailey, who was a cornerstone players for the Broncos in his 10 years with the franchise, set the bar high for much of his career. This week Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who suffered a torn Achilles earlier this season, said Bailey was the best cornerback he had faced in his long career.
During an appearance Tuesday on the nationally-syndicated Talk of Fame Network radio broadcast, Smith had this to say about Bailey:
“The one guy who’s always jumped out at me was Champ Bailey. I remember going against Champ in 2003, and I ran a route … I think it was the first or second play … and I beat him. I beat him pretty good. He was pressed up. And then the next three or four plays, he just bench-pressed me. They lined me up at running back, and he lined up at linebacker. I just loved that there was no part of the field that he wasn’t willing to go.
“And I think that’s kinda been lost a little bit in this day and age,’’ Smith continued. “You hear a guy who says he’s a lock-down corner, but let a guy go in the slot, and he’s nowhere to be found. Let a guy line up at No. 3 [wide receiver], and he stays outside … and then they go to a different coverage. Well, you can’t be lock-down if you’re only locking down certain portions of the field.’’
Bailey came to the Broncos in 2004 as part of a blockbuster deal with Washington that sent running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins. Denver received Bailey and a draft pick. Bailey went to eight of his 12 career Pro Bowls as a Broncos cornerback before the team released him following the 2013 season. He retired after spending training camp in 2014 with the New Orleans Saints, who released him.
The 12 Pro Bowl selections are the most-ever by a cornerback, is tied for most ever (with Hall of Famer Ken Houston) for a defensive back and is tied for third all-time among all defensive players. Only Merlin Olsen, with 14 Pro Bowl selections, and Reggie White and Ray Lewis, with 13 each, had more on defense.
Bailey’s 10 interceptions in 2006 with Denver were a career-best for a single season. He also had eight interceptions for the Broncos in 2005 when Denver advanced to the AFC Championship Game. He closed out his career with 52 interceptions, a total that included five seasons in Washington.
Bailey played 215 regular-season games in his career, starting 207. When he formally announced his retirement in October 2014, he told ESPN.com “I can’t be disappointed with the way my career went personally, but I wish I would have gotten a ring, but I can still be happy and smile about my career.’’
Bailey, who was troubled by injuries in his final season, played just five regular-season games in 2013 but did play in Super Bowl XLVIII for the Broncos. Denver lost, 43-8, to the Seattle Seahawks.
But Smith said this week it was Bailey’s body or work, which included 106 consecutive games without allowing a touchdown, that separated him from the rest.
“It’s so hard now because there are a ton of good corners,” Smith said. “But the reason that I really just say Champ is because everybody wants to talk about the success of all these guys who are in their fourth or fifth years. I’m in my 15th year, and I’m 36. Some of these guys, when I was a rookie, were in elementary school. So I’m not going to crown a guy who’s been in the league six years and had three years of success and three years of failure or average. I want to see how he is in three or four more years when his speed goes, and he has to learn how to use his technique. That’s just me, but that’s where I feel like the legacy is built.’’