ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —Longtime Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey retired from his career in the NFL, he announced on Tuesday.
"Every professional athlete knows and understands that at some point his career will end and it will be time to move on to another phase in life. For me, that time is now," Bailey said in a statement. "I have been truly blessed. I have been able to play this NFL game I love for 15 seasons and yet, it seems like only yesterday that my dreams came true when I received the call from Charley Casserly letting me know the Redskins had made me their first pick in the 1999 draft. I thank them for that."
Before being drafted by Washington, the Georgia native stayed close to home for college, playing for the Georgia Bulldogs as a standout player on defense, as well as on special teams and on offense as a wide receiver. His 1998 season garnered him widespread recognition as the best defensive player in the NCAA, winning the Bronko Nagurski Award, and he was named a consensus All-American.
"Then in 2004, Mr. Bowlen, Mike Shanahan and Ted Sundquist gave me the opportunity to come to Denver and be a Bronco. I had the privilege of playing in front of the best fans in the NFL," he added.
After playing the first five seasons in Washington, the Broncos acquired Bailey via trade. He stood out immediately, earning three consecutive All-Pro honors in his first three years in Denver, including a two-season stretch in which he caught 18 interceptions.
"The thing about Champ was he had great ability as a shutdown corner while also not being afraid to stick his nose in there and be a part of the run game," Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway said. "He was a complete corner with tremendous toughness and ability to cover. I believe Broncos fans respected him not only because of the example he set on the field but also because of his hard work in the community."
Bailey spent 10 years with Denver, recording 34 interceptions as a Bronco. He also had the second-most interceptions in a single season in Broncos franchise history with 10.
"Champ was the pillar in this organization for a long, long time. He brought great stability to the Broncos not only as a player but as a person through his ability and leadership," Elway said. "When I came here in 2011, he was the guy that we were going to build around and we were fortunate to have him for three more years to get this team back on track. He was a big part of that turnaround."
Bailey was one of the NFL's top cornerbacks for years, with three touchdowns on interception returns as a Bronco and four total in his career. Bailey was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2000's All-Decade team, a tribute to his consistent and sustained success on the field.
Peyton Manning and Broncos Head Coach John Fox spent much of their careers leading their respective teams while Bailey played some of his best football.
"Champ Bailey is one of the best cornerbacks ever to play in the NFL, in my opinion. I competed against him a number of times and had the great privilege of playing with him for two seasons in Denver. He was a great teammate in the two years we were here together, and it was very easy to see what made him such a special player," Manning said. "His knowledge of the game and his understanding of offenses—with different pass pattern intricacies and combinations—was very impressive. He had unbelievable cover skills and unbelievable ball skills."
"Champ was the consummate pro and a real student of the game," Fox said. "He studied, took care of himself physically and helped younger players. He worked hard on and off the field, and that's why he was able to play so long at a taxing position like cornerback."
Former Broncos safety John Lynch had nothing but good things when reflecting on Bailey's career.
"He was one of the best tacklers I have ever seen," Lynch said. "Coupled with that, he was able to play shutdown, zone and bump and run. He did it all and was truly a complete player."