ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Champ Bailey is old school.
Sharp, shrewd, subtle.
A decade younger, Richard Sherman is just as clever and calculating as his 35-year-old counterpart in Denver, devouring clues from endless hours on the football field and in the film room to dupe quarterbacks on game day.
What sets Seattle’s superstar cornerback apart is that he’s bigger and brasher than Bailey. He talks a big game and he backs it up.
Bailey, almost bashful by comparison, is a big fan.
“He’s a good player, a good player. I’ve noticed myself watching him a lot more this year,” Bailey said. “As guys start to emerge you start paying more attention. He’s a good player; he does a lot of good things on the field. Every week he’s making a play to change the game.”
Bailey also has no issue whatsoever with Sherman’s swagger that was all the rage after his post-game rant moments after making the game-saving play in the NFC Championship that sent the Seahawks into next week’s Super Bowl against Bailey’s Broncos.
“We’re all different personalities. I don’t have a problem with his personality,” Bailey said. “For one, if you don’t want somebody to talk, you have to give them a reason not to, that’s it. He’s probably going to talk anyway but at the same time he is what he is. I like his game.”
Bailey is ready for the inevitable comparisons during Super Bowl week with Sherman, who stands 3 inches taller, weighs six pounds more and is many times more loquacious.
So be it, said Bailey, who isn’t about to complain about anything, not even the wintry weather in the Big Apple this week.
He’s been waiting for this moment for a lifetime.
This time of year, Bailey is usually savoring the sun, surf and sand in Hawaii. A 12-time Pro Bowler, he’s the most decorated defensive back in NFL history.
It’s taken him 15 seasons to get to his first Super Bowl, and this has been the most trying season of all, one in which he missed 11 games and parts of two others because of a nagging right foot sprain that he originally hurt in the preseason on Aug. 17 in Seattle, of all places.
Bailey’s season of fits and starts left him playing in a reserve role down the stretch but when Chris Harris Jr. blew out a knee against San Diego in the divisional round, Bailey returned to his usual spot at left cornerback.
Playing opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last week, he had a superb, though typically under-the-radar, game against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship, collecting three tackles while shutting off his side of the field.
“I definitely didn’t want to be standing around and watching it happen in front of me,” Bailey said. “But I had to let my body heal. I had to let things get right before I could go out. I’m just glad that I’m back out there participating.”
Bailey’s contemporaries both past and present are pulling for him to raise the Lombardi Trophy Feb. 2.
“That would be a picturesque moment if that happens,” said former teammate Brian Dawkins, who visited the Broncos at practice Friday. “I don’t know how he would react. I know how I’m going to react if that does happens for them, especially for him. Tears of joy.”
Dawkins contends Bailey’s bounce-back season ranks right up there with Peyton Manning’s comeback from neck surgeries that led to his release from Indianapolis and his revival in Denver.
After all, Bailey was burned for two big touchdowns in the Broncos’ crushing loss to Baltimore in last year’s playoffs, then fought through the ridicule, the whispers that he was washed up and the foot injury this year that would have forced many others to call it quits, maybe even for good.
Several of Bailey’s current teammates say they want the Super Bowl to serve as the capstone to Bailey’s incredible career so he can have that diamond-encrusted ring he’s been chasing since 1999.
“Year after year of saying that we’re going to make it to the Super Bowl, we’re going to get you there, it would mean a lot for us to get this for him,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said.
Bailey appreciates the sentiment, but in his typical self-deprecating manner, he’s shying away from such chatter.
“That’s great. I love the respect and everything my teammates give me, but it’s not about me,” Bailey said. “It’s definitely about this organization. That’s the reason I stuck around here because I knew it was coming at some point. We’d get a shot. Here we are. Guys want to say it’s about me but it’s really not.”