"He's always been a competitor," said former Chiefs receiver Eddie Kennison. "He's played 15 seasons because he's always prepared himself for Sundays. When a guy works as hard as he's worked for as long he has, he makes guys like me go and study tape to try and find a weakness. That's what made the competition so fun. We had to make sure we were on our A-game."
Bailey just doesn't let things get to him. Maybe that's why he's lasted this long. About four or five years ago, his agent, Jack Reale, mentioned an article he assumed Bailey hadn't seen. "I read everything," Bailey told him. When Reale asked why, Bailey said he does it so if he's ever questioned about anything, he knows how he feels about the subject and what his answer should be.
"I thought that was incredibly insightful from a guy as quiet and unassuming as he is," Reale said.
"I think Champ is the embodiment of the old adage that still waters run deep. Anyone who takes him for granted winds up getting burned. We live in a society where people put a lot of credence in numbers and chronology because that's easy. But last year was one of the best seasons he's ever had, and that was at 34. So at 35 he didn't all of a sudden go from being one of the best to having lost his skills.
"Anybody who makes that assumption purely based on age that he can't play for a number of years is making a significant mistake."
Bailey isn't talking about the future at all, beyond this week. His demeanor is no different than it was in the preseason. He's always this way. Now, Bailey has had his moments. There was a Patriots game that Dawkins remembers his friend being surprisingly amped up for in warm-ups. Dawkins, now an ESPN analyst, came to Denver after a long and successful career in Philadelphia. But he was still a little in awe when he took the field with Bailey for the first time in 2009, in the preseason.
"As I was lining up," Dawkins said, "I looked to my left, and I'm thinking, 'Man, I'm on the field with Champ Bailey.' And that was a special moment for me."
And this week will be special. Numerous family members are making the trek to New York, including his mom and his dad, Roland. His brothers and sister are expected to be there, too. His kids -- Bailey has six of them -- are staying home, Elaine Bailey said.
But his 4-year-old son Brayden was there on Jan. 19, after the Broncos beat the Patriots. He bounced around the locker room wearing a jersey that said, "Lil' Champ."
Every five minutes or so, he asked his dad when they were going home.
"He doesn't get it all the way," Bailey said. "He knows it's a big moment, but he doesn't grasp it yet. He'll probably remember. … I remember things when I was that young, big stuff. Maybe he will."