This year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class is a loaded one. Gil Brandt, Tony Gonzalez, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed and Johnny Robinson will all be in enshrined into Canton this Saturday. Joining this class will be the late Denver Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen, and one of the greatest Bronco players of all time, Champ Bailey.
What The Champ Bailey Hall of Fame Induction Means to Me
For Broncos Country, and myself, this year’s induction is a special one indeed. Bronco players have notoriously been underrepresented in Canton. Not only did it take way too long for the great Terrell Davis to be enshrined, but players of the likes of Karl Mecklenburg, Tom Jackson, Steve Atwater, Tom Nalen and Randy Gradishar have all yet to hear their name called. For this reason, Broncos Country has had a tough relationship with the Hall of Fame, but this Sunday, that all changes.
This weekend will start with the Broncos playing in the Hall of Fame Game against the Falcons, but the story of the weekend for Broncos Country will be the enshrinement of these Bronco legends.
For me, this enshrinement ceremony could not be any more perfect. As a young boy at the age of 7, as my Bronco fandom was beginning, the Broncos made one of their most significant trades in franchise history. They traded away star running back Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey. Initially, I remember being both stunned and disappointed. Portis was one of the best backs in the league and at the time, was my favourite Bronco player. However, this trade turned out to be one of the best the Broncos have ever made.
Champ’s ten years as a Bronco may not have been what many would exactly call the Broncos “glory days.” Filled with losing seasons, early playoff exits, and seasons missing the playoffs, Champ never bailed on the Broncos. Not once did Champ demand a trade or seek an opportunity to play for a team with a better chance at a ring. Champ did the only thing Champ knew to do; lock down one side of the field and make life a living hell for the team’s opposing wide receivers.
Champ was the epitome of a lockdown corner. His 2006 season remains, in my opinion, the best ever by a cornerback. Champ was only thrown at 35 times, allowing only FOUR receptions, and led the league with ten interceptions. He was truly dominant. When opposing quarterbacks lined up against the Broncos, those who would dare to challenge Champ would soon realize why so many choose not to. He did not stick to one side of the field, but he also followed the opposing team’s best player. On NFL Network, former Panthers and Ravens wide receiver, Steve Smith said “[If] I lined up in the slot, he lined up in the slot, if I lined up as a running back, he lined up as a linebacker. If I parked my car in the parking lot, he was the parking attendant. Champ Bailey lined up everywhere.”
But it was not just Champ’s play that made him so special. He was the consummate professional. When he was at the twilight of his career, he took younger corners under his wing and mentored them. One of the players who Champ had a tremendous influence on was Chris Harris Jr. Harris not only credited Bailey with teaching him proper technique but also educating him on the importance of embodying a level of professionalism when preparing for an NFL game.
Harris told Denverbroncos.com, “[Champ] gave me a lot of different tools I could use and I still use the same things. It stays with me”. Champ may have not ever won a Super Bowl with the Broncos, but only a couple years after his departure, the Broncos won and many of those players who were vital to the Broncos success, owe Champ for showing them the ropes. In many ways, that ring they won in Super Bowl 50, led by a ferocious defense, has Champ’s name all over it.
He never fought for more playing time when his career was dwindling down, or cried for a bigger contract when he was the best in the game. In perfect Denver Broncos fashion, he was the epitome of loyalty. Speaking of loyalty, no one embodies “loyalty” more than former Denver Bronco owner, Pat Bowlen.
Denver Broncos football is synonymous with Pat Bowlen. When Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Broncos, the city of the Denver knew they were getting a man dedicated to creating a winning football team. What they might not have known is that this man will forever change sports in the state of Colorado.
Pat Bowlen, the Greatest Owner in Sports
Up until Bowlen relinquished control of the team due to his battle with Alzheimer’s, the Broncos had more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons under Bowlen. Bowlen was a man dedicated and addicted to winning. Many people may assume that to win as many games as the Broncos won under Bowlen, he must have focused on hiring and signing top tier talent. Of course, that is true to an extent, but Bowlen emphasized the importance of hiring good people. Not “good” in the sense of being able to make a game-winning throw, or being able to draw up a perfect game plan, but good in the sense of a good human being with the right values.
This might sound weird; why would an owner care about the morality of the people within his organization? To Bowlen, winning would not come at the expense of poor morality. This was never more true than when the Broncos fired Josh McDaniels. When there were rumblings about McDaniels attempting to replicate some of the same spying techniques he learned in New England, Bowlen quickly put an end to it, and fired McDaniels.
Many owners are either too involved or too removed from the team. But Pat was different. He never tried to steal the spotlight from the players, but he was still very much involved in their lives. Everything he did was for his players and his fans. When the Broncos finally won their first Super Bowl, he didn’t bask in the glory for himself, the first thing he did was raise the trophy and exclaimed, “This one’s for John!” and the next year after another Super Bowl win, he raised the trophy and announced, “This one’s for YOU (the fans).”
Pat Bowlen also had an incredible impact on the NFL outside of the Broncos. He helped negotiate TV deals for the NFL. According to USA Today, Pat Bowlen was the father of Sunday Night Football. He wanted to popularize the game; he wanted everyone to gain from the game. Not just the Broncos, but the football world.
And of course, Mr. B was notorious for his philanthropy. An article in the Denver Post discusses how many of Bowlen’s charitable efforts were secret. Jim Saccomano, who worked in public relations for the Broncos for years discussed that there were plenty of times that he had to pledge secrecy about Bowlen’s charitable efforts, since he did not want it to be public. He wanted to help the community in the purest way possible, and he did not need his name attached to anything if it meant helping others.
Mr. B was loyal to the Broncos and to the city of Denver. He showed me and everyone else in Broncos Country how to properly lead others. He never needed the credit, but Bronco fans around the world couldn’t help but hold back tears when 15 years later, John Elway returned the favor after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 and screamed out, “This one’s for PAT!” Pat never did it for himself, but the Broncos indeed did it for him. He may no longer be with us, but his impact will live on.
Thank you, Champ and Mr. B for not only putting so much effort in trying to make the Broncos the best possible team but showing us, Broncos Country what it means to be a good person. I learned many things from watching football in my life, but the lessons I have learned from Champ and Pat off the field will forever live with me.
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