ATLANTA — Champ Bailey, the quiet but highly proficient cornerback who began his NFL career with the Washington Redskins before being involved in one of the biggest trades in league history, found out Saturday he will take his place among the sport’s all-time greats.
Bailey was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of an eight-member class that also included tight end Tony Gonzalez and safety Ed Reed.
The other inductees chosen Saturday, on the eve of Super Bowl LIII, were Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson. Enshrinement ceremonies will be in August in Canton, Ohio.
Bailey, Gonzalez and Reed were elected in their first year of Hall of Fame eligibility. Gonzalez and Reed were regarded as virtually automatic selections. Bailey was not thought to be quite in that no-doubt category. But he was considered a likely choice. Voting was conducted Saturday at the Super Bowl media center by the close to four dozen media members who serve as Hall of Fame selectors.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Bailey, who grew up in Georgia and played collegiately for the Bulldogs. “Fortunately enough for me, this is home and the timing is perfect for me. . . . It’s a surreal feeling. It’s a great class, I’d say the best ever.”
He was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time all-pro choice in 15 seasons for the Redskins and Denver Broncos between 1999 and 2013. Bailey was named to the NFL’s all-decade team of the 2000s. He was confident but soft-spoken and reserved, not the boastful sort of cornerback inclined to make loud proclamations about his proclivity for blanketing the league’s diva wide receivers. But he got the job done with efficiency and great regularity. Bailey had 52 career interceptions, including 18 over a two-season span for the Broncos in 2005 and 2006.
He was a first-round draft pick by the Redskins in 1999 (No. 7 overall), chosen by Charley Casserly in his final draft before being forced to resign as the team’s general manager by new owner Daniel Snyder. Bailey helped the Redskins to an NFC East title in the 1999 season and had a three-interception game as a rookie while rapidly establishing himself as one the league’s top cover cornerbacks. But a contentious set of contract negotiations led the Redskins to trade Bailey and a second-round draft pick to the Broncos in 2004 for running back Clinton Portis in a rare star-for-star deal.
Bailey went on to start two AFC title games and a Super Bowl for the Broncos. Portis became the centerpiece of the Redskins’ running game in Joe Gibbs’s second go-round as the team’s coach and beyond. Debate has continued, fiercely at times, as to which team won the trade. Bailey’s supporters in that argument now can cite a gold jacket.
Reed was one of NFL’s greatest safeties and one of its top defenders, regardless of position, while with the Baltimore Ravens in the early 2000s. He led the NFL in interceptions three times. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls. He and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu redefined how the safety position was played.
“It’s a blessing to get that knock on the door …. Here we are,” Reed said. “We made it, first ballot.”
Gonzalez played 17 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons between 1997 and 2013 and became a prototype of the sport’s superb pass-catching tight ends. He was big and athletic and presented a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
His 1,325 career catches are first among tight ends and second overall, behind only Jerry Rice. Gonzalez reached 14 Pro Bowls and had at least one catch in 211 straight games.
“It’s just a dream come true for me and I’m happy to be here,” Gonzalez said.
Law and Mawae joined Gonzalez, Reed and Bailey among the inductees chosen from among the modern-era finalists.
Law’s election addresses what some had considered an underrepresentation of the New England Patriots’ dynasty in the Hall of Fame. That will change, of course, once quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick retire, and owner Robert Kraft is likely to be enshrined as well. But Law started two Patriots’ Super Bowl triumphs at cornerback and represents the early years of the dynasty. Brady had lobbied for his election, while Belichick made a failed attempt to convince voters to elect defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
“I feel like for a long time the Patriots weren’t getting their just due,” Law said.
Mawae, a center for most of his career after moving from guard, was an eight-time Pro Bowler in 16 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. He blocked for 1,000-yard rushers in 13 different seasons and also is a former president of the NFL Players Association.
“I had a higher vertical today than I did at the draft,” Mawae said.
Bowlen and Brandt were elected in the contributors category. Bowlen has been the owner of the Broncos since 1984, although the team announced in 2014 that he was relinquishing control over the franchise’s operations after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The Broncos have won three Super Bowl titles during his ownership tenure and he once was among the league’s most influential owners.
Brandt was a longtime Dallas Cowboys front office executive from the 1960s to the ‘80s who was a key roster architect of teams that had 20 consecutive winning seasons and won two Super Bowls.
Robinson was chosen as the nominee of the seniors committee. He was a safety for the Dallas Texans and the Chiefs between 1960 and ’71 and was named to the AFL’s all-time team.
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