(Champ Bailey photos courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
Talk of Fame Network
There are few wide receivers today better qualified to assess defensive backs than Baltimore’s Steve Smith. He’s been in the league 15 years. He’s 36 years old. And while his career may have ended with a torn Achilles suffered in last weekend’s defeat of San Diego, he hasn’t forgotten what he learned on the field.
And what he learned is that there’s one defensive back that stood out over all the others he faced in his career.
Champ Bailey, come on down.
“The one guy who’s always jumped out tough at me was Champ Bailey,” Smith said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I remember going against Champ in 2003, and I ran a route … I think it was the first or second play … and I beat him. I beat him pretty good. He was pressed up. And then the next three or four plays he just bench pressed me. “They lined me up at running back, and he lined up at linebacker. I just loved that there was no part of the field that he wasn’t willing to go.
“And I think that’s kinda been lost a little bit in this day and age. You’re hear a guy who says he’s a lockdown corner, but let a guy go in the slot, and he’s nowhere to be found. Let a guy line up at No. 3 (wide receiver), and he stays outside … and then they go to a different coverage. Well, you can’t be lockdown if you’re only locking down certain portions of the field.
“That’s why I always respected and looked at Champ. He did things that ‘DBs’ today don’t do all the time. I’m not sure why, and I don’t really care. But I know they don’t do it. You can’t be an all-around skill player, but yet when it comes down it you’re not lining up all over the field with that guy.”
Bailey is a virtual certainty to make the Hall of Fame. A 12-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro, he was the platinum bar against which all other cornerbacks were measured. A member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Bailey was as indestructible as he was productive, missing only three games in his first nine seasons as a pro.
When he retired last year, he left a litany of records behind – including the most consecutive games (106) by a cornerback without allowing a touchdown, the most Pro Bowl appearances by a cornerback and the most interceptions (4) in one game by a cornerback.
That last item has him tied with 20 others. But when it comes to naming one who is head and shoulders above the rest, Steve Smith didn’t hesitate.
“It’s so hard now because there are a ton of good corners,” Smith said, “but the reason that I really just say Champ is because everybody wants to talk about the success of all these guys who are in their fourth or fifth years. I’m in my 15th year, and I’m 36. Some of these guys when I was a rookie were in elementary school. So I’m not going to crown a guy who’s been in the league six years and had three years of success and three years of failure or average.
“I want to see how he is in three or four more years when his speed goes and he has to learn how to use his technique. That’s just me, but that’s where I feel like the legacy is built. (It’s) when you understand and when you’re intellectually as smart as your talent.”