Each year, I look to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festivities as the start of football season and a warning that summer is coming to an end.
It’s something I love to attend every year, whether as a fan of this amazing game or, as I was this year, a member of the media. As I drive down State Route 77 and finally see Tom Benson Stadium in the distance, I get chills. Every single time.
Every class brings me something to look forward to; a player I loved or a team I hated, it doesn’t matter. And this year’s class is no different.
The 2019 class of enshrinees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame included four defensive players, two offensive players, and two front office gentlemen. And, as always, each one gave a speech that left a solid imprint in my mind.
When we were dividing up the articles for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, I jumped on the chance to write about Champ Bailey. Most of you know I am a lover of defense, and Champ was in a class by himself.
Cornerback Champ Bailey was drafted in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft. It almost seems impossible that it was that long ago simply because it feels like he just left the game yesterday. Champ spent his first five seasons with Washington, then moving on to Denver in 2004.
His stats are staggering. Impressive from the start, Champ had five interceptions in his rookie year, including three against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct 17, 1999. In Denver, he had three division titles, started in two AFC Championship games, and one Super Bowl. 52 career interceptions, returned for 464 yards and 4 touchdowns. First Team All-Pro 4 times, Second Team All-Pro 4 times, voted to 12 Pro Bowls and named in the All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He holds the NFL record for most consecutive games with an interception (5).
Currently, there are hundreds of articles about the upcoming NFL Draft. Mock drafts, team’s draft needs, draft surprises, the topics are endless. Well, I’m here to add another one to the list! However, I’m not talking about this year’s draft. Today, I’m going to take you back twenty years to 1999.
The Denver Broncos, led by quarterback John Elway, had just beaten the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII 34-19. You may remember that was the year when everyone was buzzing about Elway confronting his former coach, Dan Reeves, about comments he had made stating new head coach Mike Shanahan and Elway had conspired to have Reeves fired. Oh, the drama!
But when the new season started, all eyes were on the 1999 draft. The NEW Cleveland Browns had the first pick. It marked the first year, since 1995, the city of Cleveland had a football team. It was no surprise they went with a quarterback, selecting Tim Couch.
While Couch did manage to take the Browns to the playoffs during his 5 injury ridden years on the team, it was other players picked in that draft who would go on to make huge impacts, not only for their teams but in the NFL.