ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On Groundhog Day, the locker rooms at MetLife Stadium will be flooded with players who have never before experienced a Super Bowl. But no one's wait has been anything like that of Champ Bailey.
A few years ago, his seasons seemed to be on a repeat loop like the days of Bill Murray's cranky weatherman: always ending in frustration, always awakening in the same spot, despite yet another Pro Bowl season and an unquestioned status as one of the league's best shutdown cornerbacks.
This week, he finally awoke to a different song. Each day since last Sunday's 26-16 win over the New England Patriots brings a new experience, culminating in Super Bowl XLVIII next weekend.
It will be the first Super Bowl that Bailey has witnessed. For years, he refused to attend, only wanting to experience it as a player. Now, every experience could be an emotional one -- even something as routine as boarding the team plane Sunday.
"Unpredictable," he said. "I really can't say what I'm going to be like. I didn't know what I would feel like after the win last week and this week going into this game I really don't know. Just take it for what it is and whatever comes upon me -- it is what it is."
And what "it is" entails deep meaning for many in the Broncos' locker room who have long respected Bailey as a player and a quiet leader. His fellow defenders were happy for themselves and the team, but had a special sentiment for the longest tenured active Bronco, who had remained through the descent and re-ascent of the franchise.
"There are a lot of guys in that (locker) room (for whom) it means a lot to them because it means a lot to him," Broncos coach John Fox said.
But Bailey was modest about the support.
"I love the respect and everything my teammates give me, but it's not about me," he said. "It's definitely about this organization."
And perhaps never was Bailey more valuable than when he met with Fox in the weeks after his hiring in January 2011. Bailey ended up signing a contract extension, and became the first piece of the puzzle to rebuild the Broncos.
"From the very onset, he gave me great insight to the Broncos organization, to a lot of players," said Fox, "and you need that as a newcomer, regardless of if you're a head coach or not. You need that insight and he's been a valuable part of the success we've had."
But rarely was Bailey more valuable than against the Patriots last Sunday. He returned to his every-down role, effectively took the slot receiver out of the game and was so effective that Tom Brady completed just one pass thrown in his direction. The foot injury that dogged him all season and kept him out of 11 games was just a painful memory.
"For him to have this opportunity after going through what he's gone through, the ridicule since the last game of last year -- the playoff game (against Baltimore) -- to finally get this opportunity to be here and experience that and coming back and continue to fight through that foot injury, then go out and have not just a good game -- man, he played an outstanding game against the Patriots," said safety Brian Dawkins. "If they're going to continue to put him in the slot, to have that veteran, fresh legs in that spot right now, (it is a) tremendous advantage for the Broncos in my opinion."
Bailey barely registered in the statistical line from the game, but as usual, that reflected the level of his performance. He was in shutdown mode, and the opposing quarterback stayed away, just as has been the case so many times in his 15 NFL seasons.
Besides, statistics don't matter to Bailey. Only the team result does.
"I don't even think he knows how many career interceptions he's got," said safety Mike Adams. "I don't think he cares about that, but his legacy says a lot. … First-ballot Hall of Famer."
And if the Broncos succeed next week, world champion.
"Oh, man, that would be a picturesque moment, if that happens for him," Dawkins said. "And I don't know how he will react. I know how I'm going to react if that does happen for them, especially him. Tears of joy comes to mind."