JERSEY CITY, N.J. — It’s perfectly predictable that Denver cornerback Champ Bailey would be excited about his first Super Bowl appearance after 15 seasons in the NFL.
What might be more unexpected is how excited his Broncos teammates are for him.
“This is one guy that everybody wants to win for,” Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “… He’s a great person and a great teammate to be around, and we definitely want to get this victory for him.”
Bailey and the Broncos will get their chance Sunday, when Denver meets the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“It has been a long road, but I’m just taking it in stride,” Bailey said. “I’m not trying to hype it up more than it should be. It’s still football. (I’m) just trying to let everything stay its course and not trying to get over-hyped about it.”
Still, there’s plenty to get hyped about. Since coming into the league in 1999, Bailey has been named to the Pro Bowl a dozen times. Reggie White and Merlin Olsen are the only NFL defenders to have been named to more Pro Bowls; and Tony Gonzalez is the only NFL player to have been named to more Pro Bowls without going to a Super Bowl.
And in Bailey’s case, the phase “going to a Super Bowl” is used as broadly as possible. He’s never even attended as a fan.
“I didn’t see any reason to go,” he said. “I’m not going to cheer for anybody. And if I have no special interests in the game – other than being a fan watching it at home – why go?”
Now, he’s finally experiencing his first Super Bowl week. And despite citing one downer – dealing with the media – he said he’s enjoying the experience.
He certainly paid his dues to get here.
The Broncos were two wins away last season, but they lost to Baltimore in double overtime in an AFC divisional game. And some fingers pointed Bailey’s way after second-year receiver Torrey Smith caught two touchdowns over him in the Raven’s 38-35 win.
However, Bailey said that experience just increased the Broncos’ resolve.
“There was definitely a different sense of urgency … starting offseason training,” he said. “You could tell that everybody was a little more focused than the year before. … Here’s our finished product: We’re in the Super Bowl, just because guys really honed in on what they had to do.”
While Denver was storming to a 13-3, AFC-best regular season, Bailey was reduced to watching while a foot injury limited him to just three starts.
“I never thought there’d be a moment where I didn’t get back,” he said. “(But) it definitely took a lot longer than I expected. It worked out even better than I thought. I don’t think any guy on any roster is 100 percent, but my foot feels good enough to play, and I’m ready to go.”
Finally so close to a championship, his teammates are eager to see him get it.
“He’s been a true professional with me and a lot of the younger guys with the team,” safety David Bruton said. “And it’s great that in his 15th season we’re getting the chance to be in the Super Bowl and try to bring one home for him.”
Despite age and injury, Bailey said even if he walks away with a Super Bowl ring this weekend, he has no plan to walk away from the sport.
“All I’m thinking about is winning and doing what I’ve got to do to win the game,” he said. “That’s my preparation this week. After the game, we’ll talk about that.”