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Champ Bailey is one of the best to ever play for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Champ Bailey on Georgia-Florida being in Jacksonville every year: ‘Why mess with a good thing?’

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#DGD: Catching up with former Bulldog and NFL legend Champ Bailey

In this week’s installment of the #DGD or “Damn Good Dawg” series, we catch up with former Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey. Simply put, former Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey is one of the best players to ever play football. In 1998, Bailey won the Bronko Nagruski award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive player. He then went on to make 12 Pro Bowls and the All-Decade team for the 2000’s in the NFL. 

In addition to being one of the all-time great Bulldogs, Bailey also shared the defensive backfield with Georgia’s current head coach, Kirby Smart. While Bailey was locking down players on the outside, Smart was providing some help over the top at safety. And both Bailey and Smart played big roles in Georgia’s 1997 win in Jacksonville over the Gators.

Bailey also shared his thoughts on the game being played in Jacksonville every year. The former UGA All-American will also be hosting an event called “The Players Reception” on Friday in Jacksonville ahead of the game. A number of former Georgia and Florida players will be in attendance along with Bailey. The event should be a great time for Georgia fans looking for something to do in Jacksonville before this year’s big game. More information on the event can be found here. 

DawgNation: You played with Kirby Smart in college. Does any of his success as a coach and what he’s been able to become surprised you at all, from having known him as a 19, 20, 21-year old?

Champ Bailey: I tell people this all the time. He really hasn’t changed a whole lot. One thing I know is that, his demeanor is basically the same. When I played with him, he was  two-years older than I was, so he always acted like the coach. He was basically an extension of the coaching staff on the field. He was that smart guy, always getting us lined up right. Always yelling at us when we messed (up). It all reminds me of how he was as a player. Of course I’m not surprised he’s the head coach at Georgia now or a head coach anywhere because he’s always been prepared for that because it’s part of his make-up.

DN: Back when you were a player, did you like that this game was played in Jacksonville every year or would you have liked to see it be a home-and-home in Athens and Gainesville, or a home-and-home and then in Jacksonville every third year?

CB: That would be unique. I did get to see a point in the mid-nineties, I think they were renovating the stadium in Jacksonville, so we got to see it in Athens one year and in Gainesville one year, so that was kind of unique. I don’t know, it’s just something special playing in a neutral site. Georgia-Florida, neutral site, long border, big rivalry game. Why not play at a neutral site? I love those type of traditions in football. So why mess up a good thing? 

DN: Did you like playing in Jacksonville more in college or more in the pros?

CB: In college. I know I was 1-2 there in college, but in the pros I was probably 0 and whatever in the pros. I don’t think I’ve ever won in Jacksonville in the pros to be honest with you. I could be wrong, but I don’t have any good memories of playing in Jacksonville in the pros. Only in 1997 was my highlight.

DN: You’ve played with and against some great quarterbacks in your career, such as Peyton Manning. How have you, as a defensive back, sort of seen how these quarterbacks change over time where there seems to be a lot of pressure for these guys, whether in college or in the pros, to play early or else their careers sort of go sideways?

CB: There’s always been pressure for high draft picks or 5-star guys to play early. They expect you, when you get to the next level, for you to perform because that’s understood. The expectations are on your shoulders because they expect these guys to have an immediate impact. Now there’s no waiting around and letting guys grow. You might get put in a system where they let you grow a little bit but nowadays, you have to produce and you have to do it early or else you’re labeled a bust before you come out of your rookie or freshman season.

DN: With the way the game of football has changed so much with the rules affecting players on the defensive side of the ball, are you sort of glad that you came up in the era that you did as opposed to being a young defensive back now where the rules seem to change every year with what you can and can’t do?

CB: It’s sort of 50/50. Back then, a tough guy was you get hit hard, you see stars, you get up and you get your butt back in there. But being that I’m older and wiser, I understand the impact of that. I wish there was some kind of regulation, at least better than it was back then. But it seems like it’s overboard now. As a defensive back, I lean on my pass rushers a lot. And now with all these roughing the passer calls, that’s what frightens me because it makes my job harder because I can’t lean on my boys as much. There are some guys who can still get to the quarterback, but you have to be very careful about how you touch the quarterback nowadays. The quarterback is the guy that’s going to be protected all the time, and you have to realize that as a defender. 

DN: You’re a few years removed from your playing days now. Is there anything that you find yourself really missing about that time and sort of structure and practice that comes throughout the week?

CB: I think it’s that excitement from game day. I don’t miss anything about practice. But locker room time, game day, those are things you can’t really duplicate outside of that NFL world because it’s so unique. Football is the ultimate team sport and every sense of the word team is portrayed in football. You don’t really duplicate that in any other profession, so you really miss that. But the grind of practice and meetings? I don’t miss that at all. 

DN: I ask because you’re up for the Hall of Fame this year and you’re widely considered someone who will and should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. How much, especially as we get closer to the announcement and finalists, how much do you find yourself thinking about that and that moment in Canton, Ohio?

CB: You have to imagine, everyone I talk to, that is their question. So it’s kind of hard to avoid the topic. It’s every part of my daily life these days. But I don’t dwell on it. I don’t let it get under my skin and make me nervous. I have nothing to do with the process at this point. My work has been done. It’s in the hands of others, and I just hope they make the right decision. 

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