Champ Bailey: The Forgotten Shutdown Cornerback

There was a time when Champ Bailey was the best cornerback in the NFL. It's why the Denver Broncos were willing to trade Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis to Washington to get Bailey, and it's why he's started nearly every game he's ever suited up for in the NFL — Bailey has come in off the bench just three times in the his 215 career regular-season games.

Yet, it's always seemed as if Bailey has been overshadowed by his contemporaries, whether it be Charles Woodson, Darelle Revis, Ty Law, even Deion Sanders at the beginning of Champ's career. And of course, nowadays — particularly following Sunday — the trash-talking, bombastic and remarkably talented Richard Sherman is making all the headlines after his NFC Championship-clinching deflection turned interception and the ensuing postgame interview(s) in which Sherman verbally assaulted Michael Crabtree. No one can seem to shut up about Sherman, which is a shame, because Champ Bailey had just as big of an impact on Denver's AFC Championship victory over the New England Patriots to send the Broncos back to the Super Bowl. It's just that Bailey went about his business quietly, the way he has for the past 15 years.

As I described at halftime of the AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady was doing everything in his power to stay away from Bailey, to the point where I can't even recall one instance where he threw Bailey's way in the first 30 minutes. And that didn't change in the second half.

In fact, the only time I remember Brady going Bailey's way all game was on a failed deep-ball attempt late, where Bailey was stride for stride with the receiver, giving Brady absolutely no room to fit the ball in.

On Sunday afternoon, Champ did what he's been doing for a decade and a half — he took away whatever receiver he was covering. Whether it was lining up outside or mostly manning the slot in Denver's nickel package, Bailey simply wouldn't let his man free, and it had a profound impact on the game.

Brady simply couldn't get things going the way he's accustomed to through the air, averaging just 7.3 yards per completion, and Danny Amendola got completely shut out, failing to shake Bailey in the slot. It was a remarkable performance from a remarkable player, and Bailey deserves his share of the limelight for his performance Sunday. It's even more impressive when you take into consideration that the 35-year-old corner missed 11 games this season and had just been easing his way back into playing shape the past few weeks.

Yet no one wants to discuss Bailey's remarkable performance. All they want to talk about is Richard Sherman, just like they wanted to talk about Woodson and Revis and everyone in between.

The thing is, Champ Bailey doesn't have the flash and the ego of a Richard Sherman, the clever moniker of a "Revis Island." He simply lets his game do the talking, whether it be his sound tackling or impeccable coverage. He's a great teammate, the kind who leads by example and keeps his nose clean. He's a great player, the kind who can miss 11 games as a 35-year-old and still come in and dominate. And now, finally, he's a conference champion, getting his rightful chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy.

Champ Bailey may not be the player he was five years ago, having lost a step or two since his prime, but he's still a game-changing cornerback. He displayed that on Sunday, quietly taking away whichever receiver he line up against and helping propel the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl, where his Broncos will take on Sherman's Seattle Seahawks.

Heading into the game, Sherman and his great play and big mouth will get all the shine. But if he plays like he did against New England, Bailey will have just as big of an effect on the Super Bowl as anyone — Sherman included. For those of you who like the histrionics and trash talk, it may not be as evident, and that's just the way he likes it.

Keep sleeping on Champ Bailey. Keep forgetting the old man. He'll just keep on shadowing wide receivers and making quarterbacks' lives a living hell. And he just may be a key reason Peyton Manning gets himself his second ring.

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