Champ Bailey still carries himself with style and class

In many ways, Denver cornerback Champ Bailey is the anti-Richard Sherman.

The former Georgia star, who’s set to make his Super Bowl debut Sunday after 15 decorated years in the NFL, has been a model of consistency and class since being drafted out of Georgia seventh overall in 1999 by Washington.

“It’s his career, it’s his image,” Bailey said of his Seattle counterpart. “If that’s the way he wants to portray himself, that’s fine. I don’t have anything bad to say about him. The guy’s a great player, he’s heady, he’s smart. I love the way he plays the game.”

Bailey, 35, has quietly gone about locking down receivers. Later in his career, his shifted to other roles for the Broncos. It was just never his style to incessantly talk trash to wide receivers, but he understands why Sherman does.

“I guarantee you he’ll say he’ll never get beat again, but we all are going to get beat at some point, as long as we strap them up,” Bailey said. “I think the nature of the position exposes you anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you’re talking or not.”

Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler, is coming off a tough season because of a sprained left foot that caused him to miss 11 regular-season games.

“It has been a long road, but I’m just taking it in stride,” said Bailey, a native of Folkston who played at Charlton County High. “I’m not trying to hype it up more than it should be. It’s still football. You’ve got to go out there and perform and you’ve got to prepare, just like we always do.”

This was his most difficult season since he missed seven games in 2008, when he started alongside his linebacker brother Boss Bailey for the first time since his final season at Georgia in 1998.

He remembers his days in Athens fondly.

“I’m a Bulldog for life,” Bailey said. “I can’t say how much my school’s meant to me. I was fortunate enough to have played with both of my brothers there, so just really the relationships I built.”

He drew on those good times to help him battle through the painful foot injury this season.

“I never thought there’d be a moment where I didn’t get back,” Bailey said. “I knew I would heal and get back, I didn’t know when. It definitely took a lot longer than I expected.”

Bailey played five seasons with Washington (1999-2003) before being traded for running back Clinton Portis and a second-round draft pick. He’s been a mainstay with the Broncos for 10 seasons.

He has relished and glowed in the Super Bowl spotlight.

“Once you start packing and you walk out of the house with your suitcase, that’s when you realize what’s in front of you,” Bailey said. “It’s a good feeling. I’m not going to get too hyped about it.”

Bailey never bothered to attend a Super Bowl, saying he had no reason to attend, considering that he wasn’t playing in it.

“I’m not going to cheer for anybody,” Bailey said, “and if I have no special interests in the game, other than being a fan watching it at home, why go? That’s the way I’ve always been.”

The forecast is gloomy for the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city. Bailey said he’s ready for any wintry mix that might show up in East Rutherford, N.J.

“Two years ago in New England, (our) playoff game was probably the coldest game I’ve played in,” Bailey said. “I’ve played in some bad snow before, but that probably was the coldest game I’ve played. I want to say two or three degrees, wind chill below zero — it was pretty cold.”

Last season, the Broncos appeared ready to make a deep playoff run until they were upset by Baltimore on a late touchdown pass. The heartache and pain from that crushing defeat has fueled this title run by the Broncos.

“There was definitely a different sense of urgency going in to OTAs and starting offseason training,” Bailey said. “You could tell that everybody was a little more focused than the year before. That’s really what you want going in to workouts. You want everybody on the same page from Day 1. Here’s our finished product: we’re in the Super Bowl, just because guys really honed in on what they had to do.”

Bailey doesn’t know if he’ll be ready to call it quits if the Broncos win the Super Bowl.

“I’m not really thinking about retiring if I win,” Bailey said. “All I’m thinking about is winning and doing what I’ve got to do to win the game. That’s my preparation this week. After the game, we’ll talk about that.”