Is Peyton in Denver Because of Champ? Or is it the Other Way Around?
When he was introduced as a Denver Bronco last spring, Peyton Manning referred to multiple recruiting attempts from Broncos players. He mentioned Elvis Dumervil sending him text after text, but I have a hunch that Champ Bailey might have had his say too. Even if Champ kept quiet, I think it’s a safe bet that the experience and professionalism that Champ brought to the defense was a helpful factor in Peyton’s decision.
But I’d venture to say that Peyton Manning had a lot to do with Champ wearing a Denver uniform in the first place.
On January 4, 2004, the 6th seeded Broncos faced the 3rd seeded Colts in the Wild Card round. Peyton Manning was lights out, completing 22 of 26 passes for 377 yards and 5 touchdowns, all to wide outs. The Colts won 41-10. It was an awful day that I remember all too well. The Broncos hadn’t had a bad defense that year, but CBs Kelly Herndon and Lenny Walls were overmatched in that game, and a clear weakness that Peyton took advantage of.
Exactly two months later, RB Clinton Portis was traded to the Washington Redskins for Champ Bailey and a second round pick (which was used to select RB Tatum Bell). It has to be one of the top trades in Broncos history. Mike Shanahan, ever confident in his ability to find someone to run the ball, jumped on an opportunity to bring one of the top CBs in the game to Denver to bolster the teams chances against the top flight QBs in the AFC. And specifically, to keep something like 41-10 from happening again.
It didn’t go so well the next year, as the 6th seeded Broncos once again traveled to Indianapolis to face the 3rd seeded Colts to open the playoffs. It was just as ugly for Broncos fans. The Colts won 49-24 as Peyton was 27-33 with 457 yards and four touchdowns.
That sets the tone for much of what Champ Bailey has endured in his time in Denver. It wasn’t all bad as they made it to the AFC Championship his second year. But Champ has played for a new defensive coordinator every season, and endured the worst seasons in Broncos football in the almost 40 years.
There isn’t anyone on the Broncos who deserves a shot at the Super Bowl more than Champ Bailey. He is a veteran leader still playing at a high level on the best team in the AFC. And Peyton is on his side now.