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Champ Bailey's Hall call: 'You couldn't ask for a better story'


ATLANTA -- It was appropriate that Champ Bailey's football path wound through his home state once more. 

A trek that began in Folkston, Georgia, a city of 4,788 near the Florida border, saw its final leg begin with the knock at his hotel-room door from Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker, to tell Bailey about the next and ultimate trip: to Canton, Ohio, this summer to join the game's immortals.

"I always believe that things just come full circle," Bailey said. "To go in with [Owner] Pat Bowlen, to go in at home -- this is what made me who I am. My state. Representing Georgia with a lot of pride. And then to be able to do it with the Broncos, to go in with the owner -- you couldn't ask for a better story."

Moments after the press conference announcing the 2019 Hall of Fame class, the emotion of the honor "still hadn't sunk in," he said.

But when you earn more Pro Bowl selections than any other cornerback in NFL history, your wait for the Pro Football Hall of Fame shouldn't be long. Bailey not only became the second first-ballot enshrinee selected primarily for his Broncos accomplishments to join the Hall -- following 2004 inductee John Elway -- but the sixth first-ballot cornerback in Hall annals.

"It's amazing to think about that -- and also to be the first defensive player for the Broncos to make it," he said.

While other Broncos defenders are in the Hall of Fame, Bailey is the first to earn selection after playing a majority of his snaps with the Broncos.

"I don't realize these things while I play, I don't necessarily focus on that," Bailey said. "I take care of my job. But now when I reflect on my career, and you can say things like that, it really means something."

What means even more to Bailey is how he arrived in Denver in 2004, and how Bowlen helped make that happen.

The trade for Bailey seemed audacious at the time. It was the first swap of players who played in the previous season's Pro Bowl since 1974.

The bold strike to bring him to Denver deepened the connection Bailey still feels to the Broncos and their owner.

To Bailey, Bowlen means "everything."

"They wanted me there and they did what they took to get me there. It's not like they drafted me," Bailey said. "It's rare to pick up a corner the way they did. They made the most of it."  

Indeed, there is only one thing that Bailey couldn't bring -- a Super Bowl win. But it wasn't for a lack of excellence or effort, and his heroic performance in the 2013 AFC Championship Game on just one healthy foot brought Bowlen and the Broncos back to the sport's biggest stage for the first time in a generation.

It proved to be Bailey's final home game. Few final acts in front of the home fans have ever been better.

"We didn't win any championships while I was there," Bailey said, "but I gave it all I had, and I know [Bowlen] appreciated it."

So did all of Broncos Country, which will forever celebrate Bailey's 10 seasons in orange and blue, and a career that sprouted in Georgia, grew in Washington and then blossomed in Denver.

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