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'This is the toughest speech I've ever written': Champ Bailey, set to join Hall of Fame, reflects on life and football

The legendary UGA and NFL cornerback sat down with 11Alive's Jeff Hullinger ahead of Saturday's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

ATLANTA — As Champ Bailey prepares to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, he says his “body of work is really what I’m most proud of.”

“I think my play speaks for itself. I played hard, you know, I never shied away from competition,” the legendary Georgia and NFL cornerback told 11Alive’s Jeff Hullinger, as he sat down to reflect on his time in football, how he sees the game, and the process of entering the Hall of Fame.

Bailey, a Charlton County, Ga. native, went down as a Bulldog great after three seasons at UGA before embarking on a prolific NFL career. He spent 15 seasons from 1999-2013 with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, going to the Pro Bowl 12 teams and earning first-team All-Pro honors three times (with another four second-team All-Pro selections).

He was the premier cornerback of his era, a hounding defender known for shutting down the best wide receivers in the game.

As he writes his Hall of Fame induction speech, he said it’s been difficult to summarize it all.

“This is the toughest speech I’ve ever written,” Bailey told 11Alive. “You know it’s just thinking about my career, a lot of things to reflect on. I swear every time I sit down and start writing things down, I think about something totally different than I thought before. There’s so many layers to it.”

Bailey is only the fourth Bulldog to enter the Hall of Fame, after Terrell Davis, Fran Tarkenton and Charley Trippi. He said with greats like Richard Seymour and Hines Ward awaiting their nod, he’s “looking forward to seeing us start a little run here.”

“Hopefully I break the ice here a little bit here,” for Bulldogs getting inducted, he said.

The 41-year-old was a do-it-all athlete at Georgia, playing both defense and offense for the Dawgs, and also ran track.

“I didn’t expect to do half the things I did at Georgia,” he said. “Fortunate enough for me, my time at Georgia, it went so well because I had a coach (Jim Donnan) – it was his first year, he wanted all the big recruits, I was one of them, so he promised me a lot of things.”

He said doing so much “was tough” but rewarding.

“I fought through a lot, cramps, playing a lot of plays, it took a lot,” Bailey said. “But I’m happy I got a chance to do it.”

Bailey said the lessons he learned from football have stayed with him in retirement.

“I mean everything I was taught from day one about the game, I just applied it to the next level, it always carried over, and that’s kind of how I am in retirement,” he said. “All those values, all those things I learned about working hard, accountability, it just carries over.”

“That’s one thing I love about football, it translates to life so well,” he added.

As he examines his legacy, Bailey said he hoped what would stand the test of time is how his teammates respected him.

“I think the most important thing is what do my teammates say about me, that’s what I care about most,” he said. “Because the guys you actually strap up with, you prepare with, their opinions matter the most… that camaraderie, I mean you can’t find that anywhere else in the world.”

In his first two seasons, two of his Washington teammates were Deion Sanders and Darrell Green, themselves probably the premier cornerbacks of their era. He immediately started alongside Green his rookie year, and then did the same with Sanders the following season.

He called the experience formative.

“They were first ballot Hall of Famers at that time, so I mean I couldn’t ask for better,” he said. “How many first ballot corners in history? Not a lot.”

“I was fortunate to play with two of them,” he added.

And, now, on Saturday, he’ll become one himself.


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