Champ Bailey(Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images)
ENGLEWOOD—A decade later, Champ Bailey admitted Bill Belichick had a beef. The ruling of
a non-touchback has had Belichick futilely trying for 10 years to correct by putting cameras at the goal lines.
“I get it,” Bailey says of Belichick’s quest in the book "Mile High Magic: The 25 Greatest Moments in Denver Broncos History (authored by muh!). “Because I thought it was a touchback. When I was on the sideline, I was saying, ‘Did the ball cross? Did I get in? Did I get in?’ Everybody on our bench of course was optimistic. ‘Yeah, you got in.’
“I was like, ‘I don’t think I got in.’ And then when they put it at the 1, I thought, “Wow, that’s great.”
Ten years ago today (Jan. 14, 2006), Bailey came through with one of the most thrilling plays in Denver Broncos history – and one of the two greatest moments in the 15-year history of the new Mile High Stadium -- with his 100-yard interception return against the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady in an AFC second-round playoff game.
The Patriots were down, 10-6 but they had third-and-goal at the Broncos’ 5 with 1:03 left in the third quarter. Brady was in the shotgun and Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer called the “zero” or all-out blitz. Which really means an eight-man blitz.
Patriots receiver Troy Brown was lined up in the slot, guarded by Broncos rookie cornerback Darrent Williams. David Givens was lined up on the outside right, guarded by Bailey.
At the snap, Givens ran right at Williams to pick off the inside corner. Brown cut off Givens’ butt and ran outside toward the pylon.
From the far side, Broncos strong safety Nick Ferguson came through untouched on a blitz between the tackle and guard. Brady was forced out of the pocket, sliding to his right. When Brady threw to Brown, the harried quarterback didn't notice the defensive switch between Williams and Bailey.
“Nick flushed him that way and Brady never saw me,” Bailey said. “He threw it right to me.”
Off went Bailey streaking down the left sideline in front of the Broncos’ bench. About midfield, Bailey had to break a tackle by a running back Kevin Faulk. About 30 yards from the end zone, Bailey was in the clear. Defensive tackle Gerard Warren and Ferguson were out in front. Ferguson was in the lead, looking around, seeing no one. As Bailey crossed inside the 10, Ferguson stopped running.
What neither Warren, Ferguson or Bailey could see was New England tight end Benjamin Watson. In the greatest hustle play since Don Beebe chased down Leon Lett in Super Bowl XXVII, Watson sprinted all the way from the other side of the field to catch Bailey and knock him out at the 1 yard line.
Bailey was carrying the ball in his right hand as he ran. Breaking the Faulk tackle zapped some energy and Bailey started running out of gas as he crossed the 10 yard line.
At about the 3, he dropped the ball down to his right hip. At that moment, Watson blasted him. The ball flew out of bounds, but the question was where. The ref placed the ball at the 1.
Belichick, the Patriots’ coach, thought the ball went across the pylon, which would have been a touchback, Patriots ball at the 20. Bailey’s return would have saved a touchdown but it would have been half-spoiled. The play was reviewed.
More than a decade later, Bailey was asked if he’d admit he got caught showboating on the play.
“Absolutely not!’’ Bailey said. “People asked me for weeks after that. No, I was tired. I gave it all I had. I didn’t know anybody was coming but I wasn’t hot-dogging. I was dead tired. He wasn’t faster than me. He did have a great angle and the hustle he had – don’t get me wrong Ben Watson is not slow. It just was a combination of his great hustle and my fatigue.”
With no camera at the goal line, there wasn’t conclusive enough evidence to overturn the call. The ball was placed at the 1, first-and-goal for the Broncos. Almost every year since then, Belichick has tried to get the NFL to place cameras at the goal line, only to be rebuffed because too many owners argue it would be too expensive.
On the next play, Broncos running back Mike Anderson ran into the end zone untouched along the left side. Instead of 13-10 Patriots, it was 17-6 Broncos.
The 14-point swing was the difference as the Broncos defeated the Patriots, 27-13. It was the Broncos’ first playoff win in their new stadium. The Broncos lost at home the next week to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. The greatest moment at Sports Authority Field at Mile High? Even Bailey admits his pick didn't top the 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime in a 2011-season first-round playoff game to beat the Steelers.
Bailey is now retired as a player with the only question about his Hall of Fame credentials is whether he gets in on the first ballot.
Even if he didn’t finish it off with a touchdown – and even if he admits his length-of-field return should have ended in a touchback -- Bailey called his play that was 14-point swing in a 14-point game, the biggest play of his career.
“Probably, because it happened where I wanted it to happen – in Denver,” he said. “At the time it was the best team I played for. That moment will probably stand out as the best.”
(© 2016 KUSA)