DENVER --Champ Bailey has spent 15 years in the NFL.
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 Demaryius Thomas said. "This is my fourth year and Champ has been in the game so long, so long. And all we talk about when I talk to him is, he wants to go to the Super Bowl. I'm so happy for him."
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 Eric Decker said. "You've got to be blessed and be thankful to be in this position. Guys like him that have put a lot into football, have given a lot to the NFL – is a future Hall of Famer – to give him an opportunity to be in the Super Bowl is what the young guys really cherish and push for."
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 Chris Harris Jr. on injured reserve, it was Bailey who got the start in the AFC Championship Game.
"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 Peyton Manning said. "It's hard to get to the Super Bowl. It's hard to win it, but I'm telling you it's hard to get there. I'm happy for Champ. I know he's excited. He played well today, I'm glad that he's back out there on the field. He's battled through some injuries and has stayed at it and been committed to his rehab. I know he's excited and I'm certainly happy for him."
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said the team wanted to win on Sunday for Champ as well as other veterans throughout the roster, from Manning to Wes Welker to Shaun Phillips.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said the trip to the Super Bowl is even more special because it comes alongside a player like Bailey.
"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."