Bailey received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Georgia, where he played for the Georgia Bulldogs football team from 1996 to 1998. He was regarded as one of college football’s greatest multiple threats (offense, defense and special teams) in his three seasons as a Bulldog. In his final year at Georgia, he registered 52 tackles (four for losses), three interceptions, seven passes defensed, 47 catches for 744 yards (15.8 avg.), five touchdowns, 84 yards rushing on 16 carries, 12 kickoff returns for 261 yards and four punt returns for 49 yards. He averaged 103.5 all-purpose yards per game and logged 957 plays (547 defense, 301 offense and 109 special teams) on the way to earning consensus first-team All-America and first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors and claiming the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player. Against the Virginia Cavaliers in the Peach Bowl, he caught 3 passes for 73 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown, rushed 3 times for 9 yards, returned 5 kickoffs for 104 yards, returned a punt 12 yards, and posted 2 tackles and 1 pass defended at cornerback. In 3 years at Georgia, he played 33 games (24 starts) and recorded 147 total tackles, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, eight interceptions and 27 passes defended. He was an All-SEC first-team selection as a sophomore, starting every game at left cornerback and one game at wide receiver.
Bailey set a school indoor long jump record in 1998 of 7.89 meters to finish third at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships.
On July 24, 1999, Bailey signed a 5-year, $12 million contract including a $2 million signing bonus. Bailey quickly established a reputation as one of the league’s best defensive back He was a large presence on the Redskins defense and benefited from time spent with Hall of Fame cornerback teammates Deion Sanders and Darrell Green.
On September 12, 2004, during the NFL’s opening Sunday Night Football game of the season, Bailey intercepted his first pass as a Denver Bronco.
On January 14, 2006, in a divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots, he broke the record for the longest non-scoring play in NFL history at the time. With the Patriots near the goal line, he intercepted a pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the end zone and returned it 100 yards to the New England one-yard line before he was tackled by New England’s Benjamin Watson, who is also a former Georgia Bulldog.
In 2005, Bailey had 10 interceptions (tied for best in the NFL with Asante Samuel) and did not give up a touchdown during the season. Bailey, San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor were unanimous choices for the NFL All-Pro team. Also in 2006, Ron Jaworski stated during a MNF pre-season game against the San Francisco 49ers that Bailey only got tested 35 times and only four passes were completed over him, none for touchdowns. Following the season’s conclusion, Bailey finished second in voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2009, Bailey did not allow a touchdown in 80 passes thrown his way that year, played on 98% of the snaps and remained one of the best-tackling cornerbacks in the game.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday spotlights…Champ Bailey
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