When I started covering the Redskins, Darrell Green was already deep into a Hall of Fame career. When Bruce Smith joined the Redskins, you knew he was on that path, too. But Bailey is the only player I’ve covered that I remember thinking after several years: This guy is going to be a Hall of Famer.
Sean Taylor might have gotten there, too. But, remember, he didn’t start playing at that level until his third season -- he certainly wasn’t bad before then -- and then in his fourth started to really take off and become a major difference-maker. And then he was murdered. It was right at the time when players separate themselves. Taylor was doing so.
Like Taylor, Bailey had all-world talent and both players were great with the ball and could have been standout offensive players. These players were ... just different.
Champ Bailey played for the Redskins for five seasons before being traded to the Broncos in a deal for RB Clinton Portis.
Bailey made the Pro Bowl in his second season (2000) and didn’t miss one until 2008. By then he was long gone from Washington. There was something different about him: He was athletically arrogant. Though he hasn't come across as boastful during his NFL tenure like some other corners do, you better believe he's competitive and felt like he was the NFL’s best corner. I remember talking to Bailey about that early in his career in an article for Pro Football Weekly. Bailey was matter-of-fact about where he thought he stood and he could say things without being perceived in a negative light.
He was also immensely talented. Every corner will be beat and when you’re a corner like Bailey, people expect perfection. I remember one game against the New York Giants -- I forget the year -- in which Bailey smothered his man off the line all game (I want to say it was Amani Toomer, but could be wrong). I remember the Giants’ quarterback looking in that direction and quickly going elsewhere. This happened all game. But Bailey did get beat once and it resulted in a touchdown. The life of a corner. Darrell Green got beat, too.
Bailey was great with the media. That’s not to say everyone was yukking it up around him and he was some sort of lively personality or sharing state secrets. No, he was respectful. There were many examples of Bailey being stopped by a group of reporters outside the locker room. He’d answer the questions. Another group would stop him inside the locker room. He’d answer the questions. And then another group would talk to him at his locker. Again, he’d answer the questions. I don’t think his demeanor ever changed. That demeanor is one reason he’s lasted so long at a position that demands steadiness. Santana Moss is similar in the way he deals with the media.
Bailey learned from his elders, notably Green and Deion Sanders. At the Super Bowl media day, Bailey told reporters, “I give a lot of credit to Darrell Green. He was an older guy and he had won Super Bowls, played in a lot of games, and he definitely helped me out a lot in my first couple years.”
Green told ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill for this in-depth look at Bailey and his career that they met twice a week in the morning to watch game film. "My motivation wasn't the fame, and people screaming my name," Green said. "It was going to work and being the best I could be."
Here’s what Bailey told reporters on his time in Washington: "I was very fortunate to be drafted by the Redskins, a great organization. But things just didn't work out and I was blessed to go to an even better organization with the Broncos. That was probably the best thing to happen for my career because I've been in a good place, a good city, and have worked for some of the best people in the world."
And Bailey’s thoughts on the Redskins now: "They're still a great organization. There's so much history there, and I appreciate them believing in my talents enough to draft me. That was pretty much [former Washington general manager] Charley Casserly all the way, but people forget about him. He's the one that made me a pro."
Casserly made some of his best moves in the 1999 draft to not only land Bailey, but to also leave the organization with three first-round picks in 2000 -- even though he knew he’d likely be gone -- courtesy of a trade with New Orleans. The Redskins turned those three picks into the first two picks in the draft, grabbing LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels.
Here’s Bailey’s secret to his success: "Really, my thing is you find something that works for you. I don't try to push my values and my faith on anybody. You find what works for you. Everybody's built a little different and just believing in myself and what I can do and things like that, that's what's really propelled me to the position I'm in."
I don’t know if Bailey is done as a player or when he’ll retire. He has the body type to shift to safety if he wants and he’s smart and athletic enough to make such a switch. But will he have to? Green told Merrill that he has more time. Green said, "If he is in the mold that I believe he is, he doesn't even have to begin to look over his shoulder for three years, maybe four. I didn't feel like until I was 38 or 39 years old that I needed to take a breath. That's a once-in-a-generation kind of gift. People don't have that. I say it humbly, but it's true. I was blessed that way, and I think Champ is, too."