EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Following a five-touchdown blowout loss in the biggest game of his career, Champ Bailey was nowhere to be found.
The 15-year veteran was the first Denver Broncos player to be announced for an interview, but 10, 15, 20 minutes ticked by, and his podium remained empty. The flock of journalists waiting for him began to dwindle, then disappeared altogether as Peyton Manning began to take questions nearby.
When Bailey finally appeared, he looked exhausted. It was hard to blame him; he had a full day. His roller-coaster began in the morning, when head coach John Fox asked him to speak to the team before Super Bowl XLVIII. It was a big honor and a nod to Bailey finally getting a chance to play on the game's biggest stage.
“It was emotional,” Decker said of the meeting. “(For him) to finally get that opportunity, he said he was playing for his teammates, and that's a great teammate and a leader: You play for one another.”
But after 216 starts in the NFL, after five years on a mediocre Washington team that decided it didn't want him, after seasons where it seemed an embarrassing oversight he wasn't named NFL defensive player of the year, Bailey came up short yet again: Seattle 43, Denver 8.
Two weeks after vintage Champ shut down the Patriots, Bailey looked every year of the 35-year corner who spent the eleven games this year on the bench with injuries. The damage started early, when Bailey was badly burned by Seattle wideout Doug Baldwin for a key third-down conversion in the first quarter.
“They definitely disguised it a little better this game than the tape,” Bailey said of the 37-yard catch, the Seahawks' third-straight completion against him. The drive ended in a field goal, extending a lead Seattle would never relinquish.
In the second and third quarters, Bailey alternated between the bench and zone nickel coverage. He didn't record a tackle or even a target. The former lockdown corner, a constant threat anytime he was on the field, had been reduced to a spectator.
A perfect microcosm for his game occurred the next time Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson challenged him. It was the fourth quarter, with 13 minutes left and the Seahawks facing another short third down. On a routine crossing route, Bailey was again outraced by Baldwin, beaten again for a short conversion. It was a play Bailey has made hundreds of times in his career. This time, his steps were a little too slow, his hands a little too late swatting at the ball.
“I'm not done playing football,” Bailey said after the game. “So I feel like I'm going to give myself another shot next year.”
But where? Earlier this week, Bailey was asked if he would consider moving to safety, a position traditionally a retirement home for cornerbacks.
“I'm not going to move anywhere any time soon,” he said. He said it with confidence, not bravado.
Sunday, the always-modest Bailey had a different answer when asked the same question.
“If it makes sense,” Bailey said. “It's something I'd definitely look into.”
Bailey is owed $10 million next year by the Broncos and will likely have to restructure his contract to stay in Denver. Will they take a risk on him at cornerback? Not if he's slow, and not if he can't show up.