I struggled with this one a little. As a kid watching those Gibbs teams make short work of regular season opponents on their way to the "second season", I remember Kelvin Bryant doing some things that made my eyes widen. He always seemed to be fighting off an injury, and he was never really the feature back for a whole season or any substantial stretch. But he had close to 1000 yards from scrimmage in 1987, and again in 1988. On the ground he picked up about 5 yards per carry over those two years in limited action and made up the rest through the air, proving to be a pretty consistent receiver out of the backfield with 40+ catches in 3 straight seasons. If I am not mistaken, Timmy Smith actually got the start in Super Bowl XXII only because Kelvin was not 100%. The rest is of course history there. So K.B., if you're out there, thanks for the memories.
#24 - Champ Bailey
But even despite the abandonment issues I struggled with (more on that below), Champ still gets my respect here. Who among us was not a huge Champ Bailey fan when he was wearing #24? I think it is safe to say he was never taken for granted by the fans. Think about how good he was to come in and play alongside Darrell Green, and Deion Sanders, and teams STILL threw away from him. When we drafted him, I remember wondering--as most of us did no doubt, if he would factor in other areas of the game for us. After all, he was a wide receiver, return man, and defensive stud coming out of Georgia. I think the coach down there said he did just about everything on Saturdays except play in the band at halftime. He was so crucial to our defense though, that the thought of him getting injured in another facet of the game (specifically offense) was unbearable to the coaching staff.
I used to play in a pickup football game on Saturday mornings (back in Champ's Redskinsheyday) and there was a guy who started wearing a Wayne Chrebet jersey every week. He fancied himself to be a scrappy receiver and he was one of the more athletic guys playing wideout each week on the other team. So I went to Modell's, bought a #24 Bailey jersey and wore it underneath a sweatshirt until we went on defense. I lined up opposite the Chrebet wannabe and called timeout. Out came the #24 jersey. I wish I could say I remember the exact score of that game, or even any stats--personal or otherwise--to make the story better, but if I were to get any wrong, one of the guys who was there that day would surely crucify me over it! What I can tell you is that my team really responded to the #24 jersey coming out. I know we won, and I have always credited the jersey. Champ Bailey was so good, that even a weekend warrior hack like me was able to channel something through that jersey that made a difference on the field. It not only made me more confident, but it seemed to make my teammates more revved up and loose.
And that really sums up how I felt watching him on Sundays. You always kind of felt comfortable with him on the field, like nothing too bad was going to happen with him locking down the other team's best receiver. It is a shame that we were not able to do more as a franchise while we had him in the fold. And his departure was truly a blow to the perception of an organization that was already suffering from a pretty bad public image around the league.
How do you reconcile the fond memories of a franchise player with the feeling of abandonment when he left? For me, I always kind of respected the way Champ conducted his business. I invite those of you with a different memory of this to chime in, because maybe I get it wrong, but my understanding is Champ really made his desire to leave known to Coach Gibbs in a face-to-face, man-to-man setting. I don't recall a big press conference with Champ and his agent demanding a trade. I don't recall Champ showing up on ESPN, or other news outlets, making statements about his dislike for coaches or players, tossing a tantrum to get out of town. I think it went down by Champ telling Coach Gibbs, "Hey, I am done with this franchise. I am done with the way they have been doing things here, and you should do what you can to get something in return for me now."
This was right as Gibbs was walking back in the door. It gave him a chance to do a quick survey of the league and find a player that could step in and be a guy he could lean on offensively. That ended up being Clinton Portis. I would prefer to set aside the very fair debate on whether or not a franchise corner is worth the same as a franchise running back. It seems clear in this day and age that there is almost nothing worth more than a franchise cornerback. (And God help me, I will never figure out how Denver got that extra second round pick out of us. Jebus...)
Champ has continued to be the class of the league at CB, and Clinton has been a pretty damn good Redskin in his own right. I should never have brought up that second round pick. I literally can't think straight now.
#24 - Champ Bailey