Going Out a Champ

I came home one day to find my ground floor had become a cat’s cradle.

You get used to spontaneous home decoration when much of your family is below the age of 3. Even so, this was impressive. Our young visitor had found my wife’s yarn ball and, with her smiling help, unraveled it all. Round and round they went, binding the bannister, the couch, the basement door in multiple layers of bright red strands.

It looked like a giant spider had eaten a Hobby Lobby.

I laughed in admiration, praised the work, took pictures by the ton. And then, when the time came and everyone had gone home, I reluctantly pulled out the scissors.

I knew it had to go. But I hated to do it. It had been so much fun that I wanted it to be for always.

I’m sure Pat Bowlen and John Elway understand just where I’m coming from.

If there’s been a more-loved Bronco on the current team than Champ Bailey, I haven’t seen him yet. His amazing play on the field made him admired, his quiet attitude off the field made him adored. Last year’s rallying cry may have been “Finish the Job,” but a close second was surely “Win One for Champ.”

But the real test came Wednesday.

It’s easy to swoon over someone who’s flying high. Every Bronco fan knows how quickly a bandwagon grows seats in the good times. The company’s welcome, of course, but the question always lingers “Where were you guys when it was hard?”

It’s been hard for Champ Bailey for a while now.

Last season was a painful one for the Bailey Bunch. Denver’s favorite cornerback got hurt, played, got hurt again. He played only five regular-season games, and only in the AFC championship game did he really seem like Champ. The rest of the time?

The rest of the time he played like a 35-year-old man with a couple of bad injuries. Willing, even eager, but with a body that couldn’t keep up with his mind.

Had it been anyone else, there would have been no question what should happen next.

Because it was Champ, the sky fell.

“That’s the worst news I’ve heard all night,” a shocked cashier told me at the grocery store.

“Poor Jaimee!” my wife declared. (Her sister harbors a not-so-secret crush on the Champ.)

“I know why they had to, but ….” said friend after friend on Facebook that evening.

Yes. But.

Those three letters say it all.

That’s when you can see the impression that one man made.

That’s when you know that a region has fallen in love with a person, and not just a player.

That’s when you know this was truly one of the good ones.

That’s how you always know.

Not just in football, either. Everyone’s had the friend or the relative or the co-worker who passed their glory days long ago … but whose glory remains undimmed. After years of what they’ve done, they’re left with who they are, and who they are is something pretty special.

That’s the life I think all of us want to have lived. It doesn’t take a trip to the Pro Bowl or a shelf full of trophies. But it does take work, humility and a willing spirit.

Willing for what? For whatever’s needed.

Champ, if you’re reading this, hold your head up high. Whatever happens next, you have the triumph that really counted. Others may hold the rings, but you hold hearts. And you’ve earned every single one of them.

Yes, it has to come. We hate to see it. We want it to be for always.

And the best parts are. Every time we remember when.

And so ends my tangled yarn.

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One Response to Going Out a Champ

  1. Katherin Engelhard says:

    So ends your tangled red yarn???

    Well, I hope there will be plenty of more stories to come, and I’m sure there will be as insightful and loving of a life you lead combined with your great talent and ability to relate them in such interesting, entertaining, humorous and insightful ways.

    I admire your abilities, your sagacity and sapience in story-telling, column writing.

    Keep up the good words.

    They delight, encourage and give food for thought to many.

    Blessings,

    Katherin Engelhard

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