Denver Broncos Champ Bailey Preparation Propelled Historic Career

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Champ Bailey relished preparation. The 41-year-old revolutionized how to prepare for big games as a cornerback. Bob Slowik, who was the Denver Broncos defensive backs coach and coordinator from 2005 to 2008, recalls the level of detail Champ put into studying his opponents.

“He prepared as hard as anyone,” says Slowik speaking over the phone from Montreal, where he is now the defensive coordinator of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. “Champ was always professional in his preparation.”

Every week, the pro football world witnessed untouchable excellence as a result of that readiness. Playing for 15 seasons, Bailey was selected to 12 Pro Bowls (the most for a cornerback) and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro. His tenure as a member of the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos saw Bailey record 908 tackles, 52 interceptions, and 203 passes defended, an NFL record that is yet to be broken.

Bailey’s impact on the game will be celebrated and enshrined in Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. And for Coach Slowik, he did not mince his words when speaking of the influence Bailey had on his coaching career.

“He was the best player I have ever coached.”

Bob Slowik Noticed Champ Bailey Early in Football Career

Slowik’s coaching career spans across different levels and leagues. From 1992 to 2013, the defensive expert coached in the NFL. But it wasn’t until his time with the Broncos when Slowik would coach his best student.

Champ Bailey was on the radar for many coaches and scouts, including Slowik’s. A consensus All-American from the University of Georgia, Champ was a triple-threat player. His speed and size allowed him to play offense, defense, and special teams effectively. Drafted seventh overall in the 1999 NFL Draft, Bailey would play a pivotal role on the Washington Redskins defense, with Hall of Fame teammates Deion Sanders and Darrell Green.

But as Slowik affirms, Bailey was a very different player than Deion. He brought a brand of toughness that made the Broncos eventually acquire him in a trade with the Redskins.

“Champ was a very well established player at the time,” recalls Slowik. “I watched all of his games and studied him playing. He was a tough competitor, who wasn’t just a great cover corner but could do everything.”

Bailey Thrives on Shift in Defensive Strategy with Broncos

When Champ Bailey arrived in Denver, Slowik and the defensive coaching staff adopted a new defensive strategy. In Washington, Bailey was accustomed to man-to-man defense, making him a prolific cover corner. But with the Broncos, Bailey transitioned to becoming an effective defender in the zone packages.

“The zone allowed Bailey to use his vision and education from studying film, highlighting his quickness,” stated Slowik.

The change to a zone defensive strategy raised the status of Bailey. In the 2006 season, Bailey generated 10 interceptions, the most in a single season for his career. In a game against the Dallas Cowboys, with the Broncos using a deep third defender, Drew Bledsoe attempted to throw a deep slant. Except Bailey read the deep slant impeccably, picking the pass off and returning it to the opposing endzone for a pick-six.

“No one could make that play except for Champ Bailey,” said Slowik.

If there is a game that highlights all of Bailey’s strengths, it was the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the New England Patriots. Driving to third and goal, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was looking to add another touchdown to the scoreboard. Champ Bailey had other ideas.

As Brady rolled out to his right and tossed the ball to the endzone, Bailey jumped in front of receiver Troy Brown to intercept the pass. Bailey would go 100 yards down the field, only to be tackled by Benjamin Watson at the one-yard line. The Broncos defense would get five turnovers in their defeat of the Patriots, but the signature play was Bailey’s interception. A record-setting play that showcased Champ’s preparedness for the best offenses in the NFL. And his blistering speed.

“I really do think Champ is a once-in-a-generation type of player,” said Bailey’s former Broncos teammate John Lynch. “He was special.”

Champ Bailey Among Recent Contingent of Hall of Fame Defensive Backs

With the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week upon us, Champ Bailey is one of eight who will be inducted as part of the 2019 class. He joins Ty Law and Ed Reed as this year’s defensive back Hall of Fame inductees. As the game transitioned to more pass-heavy offenses in the 21st century, it paved the way for secondary players to be pivotal pieces for the defense.

“It is tough to play the cornerback position,” explains Slowik. “With the offenses getting better and passing more, it is a credit to players like Champ to make it to the Hall of Fame level.”

Champ Bailey Leader On and Off the Field

When the Broncos were at home on Sunday, countless fans would descend onto Mile High Stadium. Wearing their No. 81 jerseys with pride, the Broncos fanbase would be treated to 10 years worth of highlight-reel defensive plays from Bailey.

But it was off the field where Slowik recognized the significance of Bailey in the city of Denver. The former NFL defensive coordinator recalls a time when he, Champ and his brother attended a Denver Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center. The soon-to-be inducted Hall of Famer would always gracefully wave to fans who said hello to him. A sign of how beloved Champ Bailey was in Denver.

“He was a quiet, reserved person off the field,” states Slowik. “But walking through the arena, he would say hello to fans. Champ was always so humble and appreciated the support.”

But the close-mouthed Champ Bailey would quickly into a fierce warrior on the field. A week would not go by without Bailey putting in full effort in practice and playing the game. His legacy will forever be etched into Canton, all a result of the preparation he invested in stymieing the NFL’s best receivers. The willingness to put in the work before the game translated into the ferocity that Champ Bailey brought to a defense every Sunday. An intense work ethic and talent that will forever be remembered beyond his enshrinement in Canton.

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