Champ Bailey finally gets a chance

He played with Irving Fryar his first two seasons in Washington. That, alone, makes Bailey seem ancient. He played, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, 215 regular-season games without reaching a Super Bowl. When the Redskins drafted Bailey in 1999, the late Sean Taylor was still in high school, and Daniel Snyder was weeks away from purchasing the team.

Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who has been in the league for six years, grew up wearing Bailey's jersey. Seahawks safety  Earl Thomas said he used to have Bailey on his MySpace page when he was in high school.

Bailey's introduction to the NFL in 1999 was much like any other rookie's. He was a kid from Folkston, Ga., trying to make it in the pros. He was subjected to mild hazing, which included fetching breakfast for the veteran defensive backs. There was one time, during training camp, when Bailey scored a prime seat on the team bus, only to be ordered to get Gatorade. When he was finished with the task, his seat was gone, forcing him to shoehorn himself between two large rookie linemen.

Bailey didn't fight it, even though he was Washington's first-round draft pick, a rare talent from the University of Georgia with jaw-dropping speed and physical gifts to match up with anyone. One of his teammates in the defensive backfield,  Jamel Williams, promised Bailey that in a few years, when he was older, no one would be able to touch him. And when Bailey got on the field, no one could match him.

"In one of his first preseason games, he broke on a pass and took it right to the house," Williams said of Bailey's preseason debut against New England, which was followed by a headline that read, "Champ of a Start." "After that, I think he was starting ever since. I knew he was good. He played with leverage, and he knew how to use his body at a young age. He had a heck of a break, and he was so fast. I figured he'd play for a long time."

Bailey had the great fortune of playing with two Hall of Fame cornerbacks in those early days in Washington: Darrell Green and Deion Sanders.

Sanders taught him swagger; Green helped him become a man. He was 39 when Bailey came in as a rookie, old enough to be his father. Knowing the great value of Green's experience, Washington secondary coach Tom Hayes asked him to work with the rookie. So Green and Bailey met twice a week, early in the morning, to study game film. Green, a Christian man who didn't regale his teammates with stories of booze and parties, was dubbed the ageless wonder. He played until he was 42.

There was no great secret to his longevity. He approached the NFL as a job, as a way to feed his wife and kids. "My motivation wasn't the fame, and people screaming my name," Green said. "It was going to work and being the best I could be."

Green said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds a few years ago. He was 50 at the time. He never told Bailey to be like him. He used to always say he didn't want him to be his "Mini Me." That was impossible, anyway. Bailey was 6 feet tall, more than 3 inches bigger than Green, and played the game differently. Green used to get on him for taking his eyes off his receiver on deep routes, for turning back toward the quarterback, but then Green stopped. Bailey was just fine being himself.

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