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Champ Bailey retires a Bronco

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Everything is as it should be. Champ Bailey finished his career as he was meant to - as one of the Denver Broncos. Hopefully the current Broncos players were paying attention because Champ's work ethic and competitive nature are the epitome of a tough player. #ThanksChamp

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

All is right in the world once again.

Losses be damned, today was a day for celebration.

Champ Bailey - one of the best cornerbacks to play the game and apparently a favorite of Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen - came home today.

And the G.O.A.T retired a Bronco.

"It's real tough walking away because I've been doing this thing the last 28 years," said Champ, who more than once stated he had no regrets on his career that started professionally in 1999 as a first-round draft choice for the Washington Redskins. In his rookie season, Champ became the youngest player in NFL history to post three interceptions in a game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Champ thanked the Redskins for "taking a shot" with him as a young cornerback fresh out of the University of Georgia. And then he thanked the Broncos for bringing him to "the greatest place on earth."

John Elway never got to play with Champ but was responsible for keeping him a Bronco when No. 24's contract was up in 2011. The current GM alluded to the mess the Broncos were in when he came to the Front Office that same year.

"We needed some help. We needed a pillar to build around and Champ was that guy," Elway said, thanking Champ today for agreeing to stay four years ago. "He ended up leading us to three AFC West championships, something we had never done before. But also the loyalty that he showed to the Denver Broncos. It showed what the Denver Broncos meant to him and what kind of guy he was and the character that he possessed."

We needed a pillar to build around and Champ was that guy. The loyalty he showed to the Denver Broncos showed what the Broncos meant to him and what kind of guy he was. -John Elway on keeping Champ Bailey in Denver in 2011

That character is what stood out to Bowlen 10 years ago when he brought Champ to Denver and compared him to Louis Wright.

"It came down not only to his skill on the field but how he carried himself on the field, how he carried himself in the locker room and how he carried himself in the community," said Broncos president Joe Ellis of Bowlen's reverence for Champ. "Champ represented the Broncos and the National Football League with class, with style, with dignity, with grace and generosity. He did this on his way to becoming one of the most beloved athletes in this city's history."

And among wide receivers and quarterbacks, Champ was one of the most feared athletes in the league. Even past his prime, quarterbacks were still avoiding Champ.

"Every adjective you could put to a cornerback, Champ exemplified that," Elway said, adding that what really separated Champ and made him the top echelon of cornerbacks was his willingness to be unselfish enough to say that his job was not only locking down a team's best wide receiver but also to be one of 11 guys to stop the running game. "Champ was one of those guys that committed to that and showed the toughness that he had. That's why he will be one of the best corners that ever played the game."

Though Champ's talent was never rewarded with a Lombardi, and his final year playing in the NFL was marred with injury, his career with the Broncos was one to always be remembered - and emulated.

But Champ - being Champ - was too humble on Tuesday to take so much credit.

"I learned from Rod Smith, John Lynch and Darrell Green early in my career. Those guys taught me what it was to be a pro and that is all I hope guys say about me," Champ said. "Did I teach them something, how to be a pro, how to practice, whatever it may be? I just hope I rubbed off in a good way on a lot of guys with no negativity."

The 12-time Pro Bowler - eight with the Broncos - added with a laugh that while he loves football and loves the guys in it, he won't miss the grinding now at age 36.

"Honestly, the best moments I had weren't on the field. I love football, but like I said, it's really about these guys," Champ said, choking up for a brief moment as he referenced the players in the audience. "We had a lot of fun. That's really what I miss the most - just the camaraderie, being around the guys, building relationships. I made a lot of friends."

In one tiny flash of self promotion - though hardly arrogant - Champ answered honestly to a reporter who asked if he hoped to be voted into the Hall of Fame.

"I'd vote for me," he said.

Among Champ's storied career, the 2005-2006 seasons will stand out as his best, recording 18 interceptions over that two-year period, most in the NFL since Everson Walls' 18 from 1981-1982.

Champ had 10 interceptions in 2006 alone, tying him for the NFL lead that year and propelling him to a second-place finish for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

But one of his most dramatic and most remembered plays is the near pick-6 he had on Tom Brady in the 2006 AFC divisional playoff in New England. He intercepted in the end zone and ran 100 yards to the one-yard line.

"It changed the game at that moment. It flipped that game," Champ said of his phenomenal interception. "It's one of the best memories that I have."

One of the best among Broncos fans as well. That electrifying play sums up perfectly the competitive nature Champ brought to every game.

He said in his press conference that his goal was always to be the best player on the field.

He achieved that - game after game.

In his final season, though hampered by a Lisfranc injury, Champ helped the Broncos to its seventh AFC Championship and earned his first trip to a Super Bowl in 15 years of playing the game.

That game didn't end the way any of us wanted - not for the Broncos and definitely not for our beloved Champ.

But ever the professional, Champ said nothing in his career is a regret - not that loss to Seattle, not the fact that he has no Super Bowl ring, and not even the circumstances that led him to an unsuccessful final bid with the New Orleans Saints before coming back to Denver to retire a Bronco.

I just hope they say I played with everything I had. I played hard. I played smart. Tough. And I was a great teammate.   -Champ Bailey, greatest cornerback of all time

"I've overcome a lot of things - injuries, bad plays, bad coaching," he said, and then quickly followed up with, "not this staff, not this staff. Trust me. We've got a great staff here."

But then the greatest cornerback of all time said the thing that proves why he is rightfully separated not just from other corners but from so many other players.

"I just hope they say I played with everything I had. I played hard. I played smart. Tough. And I was a great teammate. That's all that matters."

Take note, Richard Sherman, this is how it's done. Both on the field, and most certainly, off. There are no islands. There are only teams.

And this Broncos team is Champ's.

Though there will be no riding off into the sunset while holding a Super Bowl trophy, Champ's final chapter does have a bit of a storybook ending - his final game at Mile High was the 2014 AFC Championship win.

"Regardless of what happened after that, that moment was special for me and I will never forget it," Champ said of the game that the Broncos beat the Patriots to advance to his only Super Bowl. "The biggest game you can play on your own field. I'll never forget it. Hopefully this year, they don't come up short."

I just hope the Broncos got as much from me as I got from this organization.   -Champ Bailey, future HOF cornerback

Then Champ rephrased because he knew he misspoke.

"I would say ‘we' because I feel like I'm still a part of this. I hope we don't come up short this year."

Champ, you are most definitely part of this. Any trophy that may come the Broncos way belongs to you, too.

"Every year I've been here, we've always had a chance to win," Champ said. "I hope the Broncos got as much from me as I got from this organization."

Most definitely. And then some.