ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – ** Champ Bailey's retirement press conference on Tuesday drew a large crowd.
Nearly 20 former teammates, plus Broncos coaches and team personnel from a variety of departments came to watch Bailey say goodbye to the game and his team.
The turnout was truly a testament to the 12-time Pro Bowler's effect on the Broncos organization.
Former Broncos Rod Smith, Jake Plummer, Chris Kuper, Brandon Stokley, John Lynch and Brian Dawkins were there. They know the task ahead of Bailey as he begins the new phase in his life -- retirement.
But beside them, at the front of the room, sat current Broncos Ryan Clady, Bradley Roby, Demaryius Thomas, Kayvon Webster, C.J. Anderson, Nate Irving, Peyton Manning, Rahim Moore, Tony Carter, David Bruton Jr., Omar Bolden, and Chris Harris Jr. There were plenty of people there who were proud to be his teammate, even if they played on the other side of the ball.
"He's a tremendous guy," Head Coach John Fox said in his press conference statement. "I want to thank him for his leadership and determination when we came in here to build a winning culture. As I look across the room here, I see many players, particularly defensive backs, I know will be forever lasting the day-to-day way to be a pro that Champ shared with them and I got to witness that."
Bailey, a seven-time team captain, including his final NFL season, is one of the most decorated players in team history. He is the only corner in NFL history to be named to the Pro Bowl 12 times and the only defensive player with more selections is Reggie White (13).
Teammates revered him for more than just his play. When Dawkins, a vocal leader of the defense, retired in 2011, Bailey stepped into a greater leadership role. Dawkins considers Bailey to be one of the best that's ever played.
"When I would line up and I would look to my left, there was a certain comfort that I got," Dawkins said. "And I said in my mind, 'Man I'm playing with Champ Bailey. That's Champ Bailey over there.' I'm talking about the first time we got on the football field together in the preseason. That's when I had the club after I broke my hand. With that club in my hand, I said, 'Man, that's Champ Bailey. I'm actually playing with Champ Bailey on this side.
"So that comfort level, to know that I have a guy on that side that I really don't have to worry about, is tremendous comfort for a safety."
In 215 career regular-season games, Bailey totaled 983 tackles, 52 interceptions and 235 passes defensed. His 52 interceptions were the most among NFL cornerbacks during his 15-year career, and his 235 passes defensed led all NFL players during that time period.
Dawkins noted, and the press conference exhibited, that Bailey has a great sense of humor and is very personable. While that personality drew teammates to him, he was also a true student of the game, constantly learning and growing. This and his playing abilities garnered respect from his teammates.
When Bailey was with the Redskins, he picked off then-Cardinals QB Jake Plummer five times, including twice in Bailey's rookie year (one he ran back for a touchdown). Plummer knows both sides of Bailey – how tough he is to throw against and his likability.
Bailey forced his teammates to "raise (their) game," according to Plummer.
"When he was a teammate, he just made you want to be a better player every day," Plummer said. "And you really couldn't help it. If you came out there soft, he'd expose all your weaknesses on the field. So having him as a teammate was great. He carried himself as well as I've seen anybody carry themselves as a pro. I was truly lucky to be part of our run we had here and he was a huge part of that."
Plummer respects Bailey's playmaking skills and noted that whenever a quarterback was "crazy enough to test him," Bailey would step in and make a game-changing play.
Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler, officially retired as a Bronco on Tuesday.
While Champ's career was filled with accolades, his contributions to the community were numerous. Those who speak about him consistently reference him as a person. He was a two-time recipient of Denver's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award (2008-09) for his work in the community.
"He's just a class act," Former Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. "No matter where you saw him, whether it was a charity event, if it was on the football field practicing, he had time for everybody and very few people of that type of accomplishments handle themselves that way."
During his remarks preceding Bailey's comments at Tuesday's press conference, Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway offered Bailey some advice regarding retirement but he also thanked him for playing a key role in revamping this team. When Elway was hired by the Broncos in 2011, he was looking for a player to build the organization around.
That player ended up being Bailey.
He helped lead the Broncos to three consecutive AFC West titles, a feat the team hadn't accomplished to that point. Elway complimented Bailey's loyalty as he chose to stay with the Broncos though he could have signed with any team at that time.
"It showed what the Denver Broncos meant to him and what kind of guy he was and the character that he possessed and the fact that he was getting close to the end of his career, he didn't know when it was going to end, you never do," Elway said. "[He was] a guy that was going to have an opportunity really to go anywhere else, if he could possibly go somewhere else, to try to win a World Championship, but he chose to stay here. To me, that shows and tells you what kind of guy Champ Bailey is as a person and the character and the loyalty that he showed to the Denver Broncos.
"For that, we will always be grateful to Champ in allowing us to be able to build the team back up to where it is today and he was the centerpiece to that back when I got the job in 2011."
Throughout the day, it was constantly reiterated that Bailey was more than a Pro Bowler, an All-Decade team member and shutdown corner. He was a pro in every sense of the word. His influence on the Broncos clearly goes far beyond football and when asked what his favorite moment of his professional career was, it wasn't his AFC title win in 2013 or his interception of Tom Brady in the 2005 AFC Divisional Game.
It involved every day moments with those sitting just a few feet in front of him in the first row.
"Honestly, the best moments I had weren't on the field," Bailey said. "I love football, but it's really about these guys in front of me. There's a lot of stories I could tell, but I don't want to incriminate myself. Or them (laughing). But we had a lot of fun. That's really what I miss the most."