Champ Baileys thumbs got quite the workout in the offseason as he bombarded Peyton Manning with texts pleading with him to come to Denver.
Manning returned just two of them.
The first one basically said, Thanks, Ill get back to you.
The second one, now, thats the one that got Bailey excited: Lets go! it read.
And so the two 11-time Pro Bowlers who had played in nine of the all-star games together were teammates at long last.
The pair of NFL greats in their mid-30s figured theyd make each other even better by playing together, and they say thats exactly whats happened over the last six months.
Bailey bugged Manning during his free agency whirlwind tour, he said, because hes an amazing player, and his leadership alone is bar none the best in the league. You need a guy like that on your team, and where I want to go, what I want to do toward the end of my career is win a championship, and I feel like he gives us the best chance.
Bailey said he long had put Manning at the top of his quarterback list because of the way he breaks down a defense and pretty much tells you what youre in, and half the guys on defense dont even know what were doing. Its sad but true. You try to trick him as much as possible, but for some reason, somebody always tips him, and he knows, he just knows.
Bailey never had a quarterback quite like Manning to practice against, and Manning never had a cornerback the caliber of Bailey to face on an everyday basis, either.
Theyre eager to see how all this time together, while frustrating at times, will pay dividends for the Broncos this season.
Well, it makes the games easier; lets just say that, Bailey said. Youre going to face the best in practice every day with Peyton. When you get in a game, youre probably not going to see a guy of his caliber, so it gets us ready.
Manning feels the same way, suggesting its Denvers defense, especially the star-studded secondary, thats playing as big a role as he is in getting the Broncos revamped offense ready for the season.
Bailey is leading the way.
Hes the best corner Ive played against in my career, Manning said. And hes been unbelievably consistent. We played the Broncos a number of times he always shows up; hes always ready to go; he always presents an intense matchup problem.
The admiration is mutual.
Hes the toughest quarterback Ive faced, so it definitely goes both ways, Bailey said. I havent picked him since college, and I probably shouldnt have picked him in college. He was probably trying to throw the ball away, and I just went and got it.
The two faced each other six times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs, and they always seemed to battle to a draw regardless of the outcome.
Champ has never intercepted me in the NFL, and yet, I dont think Ive ever thrown a touchdown on him, either, Manning said. So, its a pretty good battle. He got me in college one time on an interception. So, Im glad were on the same team.
Before his release from the Colts in March, after missing the entire 2011 season because a nerve injury caused weakness in his throwing arm, Manning had run an offensive juggernaut in Indianapolis. He had 13 consecutive years with at least 300 completions for at least 3,700 yards and a minimum of 26 touchdown throws. Along the way, he became a Super Bowl champion and the leagues only four-time MVP.
Yet, every time they faced Bailey, he was a thorn.
We always had healthy respect for Champ, Manning said. We never throw away from a certain guy because we felt like we loved our receivers. With Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne), we were going to throw to those guys. But you always knew that Champ, boy, if you couldnt get set and get your feet into it, it wasnt worth throwing. If you threw a little bit behind him, he was going to make you pay.
And he looks good to me out here in camp. His work ethic, Ive always heard about, is outstanding. He sets a great example for these young cornerbacks.
Asked to name Baileys best quality, Manning couldnt.
Oh, its hard to pick just one. Hes got some of those rare skills that special corners have: you know, Deion, Rod Woodson. He sort of has it when it comes to being a cover corner, Manning said. But his work ethic I think is what keeps him at the top every year.
Thats what Bailey thinks will get Manning back to the top after missing last season, too.
Bailey said the Manning he sees today is no different than the one he saw all those years at the Pro Bowl.
Well, one thing about him is, you can cover a guy, and his ball placement is so perfect, Bailey said. Its frustrating because when youre all over a guy and he puts the ball here, you cant do anything ... I mean, theres not a lot of turnover opportunities. Not a lot of quarterbacks are that sharp. Id say 90 percent of them are not that sharp. Were going to face some of those 90 percent, and as long as were covering our guys in practice close enough to make a play, well make some plays in games.