Champ Bailey finally gets a chance

Their relationship represented something that Green believes the NFL is missing these days, as veteran players are exiled for younger and cheaper talent. Green hasn't talked to Bailey in about five years, but said he watched him last week with the pride of a father. He scoffs at the notion that Bailey is wearing down.

"If he is in the mold that I believe he is, he doesn't even have to begin to look over his shoulder for three years, maybe four," he said. "I didn't feel like until I was 38 or 39 years old that I needed to take a breath. That's a once-in-a-generation kind of gift. People don't have that. I say it humbly, but it's true. I was blessed that way, and I think Champ is, too."

He was born on June 22, 1978, with the name Roland Bailey Jr., though no one really calls him that. Sometime when he was a baby, he acquired the nickname Champ, and from there, according to his mom, "people just started running with it." She believes he got the nickname because he was such an active baby. By the time he could walk, he was running everywhere. For a while, his family was convinced his name was actually, "Sitdownchamp."

Times were different then. Kids played football outside, climbed trees and chased each other around the neighborhood, unencumbered by computers, video games and iPhones. Elaine rarely sees kids playing outside her home in Georgia anymore.

She says her son's steps are getting shorter, but that it's a blessing he's played 15 seasons without an injury that has taken him out for an entire season. About 35 family members made the trek to Denver two weekends ago for the AFC Championship Game, and none of them doubted what Bailey would do in that game.

He quietly bottled up the Patriots' slot receivers, and provided leadership to a defense that has been through so much in 2013, from Harris' injury to linebacker Von Miller's suspension and season-ending ACL injury to defensive end Derek Wolfe being placed on injured reserve because of seizure-like symptoms.

"I was always confident I'd get back," Bailey said. "I just had to let [the foot] heal. I couldn't force it. That's something I've learned about my body, not to try to force things and to let things take its course. It just took a little longer than I expected."

Bailey said he's far more conscious now about what he eats and how he trains. But he's "not religious about it." He'll have an occasional burger, and still loves his candy. He's learned from Green and Lynch and Dawkins how to manage his body.

On Mondays, Bailey said, he feels as if he's just crawled out of a car wreck. So he tries to stay off his feet. He stretches and loosens up on an elliptical machine.

When he came to Denver in 2004, Bailey was known as one of the more physical cornerbacks in the league. And for 14 years, he was the guy who was assigned an opponent's best receiver. He went to 12 Pro Bowls -- an NFL record for cornerbacks -- and dominated with his speed. In his later years, he's relied more on brains and instinct.

His absence in 2013 was noticeable. The Broncos went from a top-five team against the pass to the NFL's sixth-worst passing defense.

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