Fifteen years of training camps. Fifteen years of meetings, of practices, of taped ankles, ice baths and weight lifting.
And fourteen seasons that ended with a loss. In year 15, Bailey and his team have a chance to change that script.
“It feels very special," wide receiver
Between the regular season and postseason, Bailey's made more than 1,000 tackles in his career. He's broken up 245 passes. He's grabbed 54 interceptions. But he's never made it past the AFC Championship Game -- until now.
“You hear stories from him and you understand that, again, this isn’t going to come every year," wide receiver
The 2013 season hasn't been a typical one for Bailey. He's started at least 13 games in 13 of his 15 seasons. But this year, a nagging foot injury that he suffered in the preseason kept him out of all but five regular-season games.
He hasn't been shy about how frustrating the campaign has been for him. It would've been easy to just pack it up when the injury wasn't healing as quickly as he wanted.
But he stuck with it.
And on Sunday, he played a crucial role in defeating the New England Patriots. With fellow cornerback
"It feels good," Bailey said. "I never doubted that I'd be back out there. It hurt not being out there, but here I am. I'm on the field and my team's still in the running. That's what it's all about."
He notched three tackles in the win, and now he has a chance to help his team earn its first World Championship since Super Bowl XXXIII.
“I’m certainly happy for Champ, I know a lot of people are," quarterback
“That makes me feel good to see a guy on and off the field who truly deserves it, go out on top like that," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Making his way back to the being productive on the field meant a lot to the veteran cornerback. Bailey said he didn't want to put "damaged goods" on the field, so he wanted to wait until the time was right.
“I knew I would come back -- you might not have known, but I knew I’d be back at some point," Bailey said. "My coaches, teammates they never gave up on me. They knew I’d be back to 100 percent at some point. Here I am, I’m playing probably my best football of the year because I haven’t played much (laughs). I’m just looking forward to the next one, making sure my body is right for the next game."
And that next game has the biggest stakes of Bailey's career.
"It's all about my family and these guys that I strap it up with every day," the cornerback said. "They really made this happen for me. It's a good way to top off 15 years. We've just got to go win the next one."