Every reporter has one. At some point in this business, we will all be asked, “Who was the best athlete you ever covered?” If you’ve done this long enough, the answer comes quickly and easy.
Just a few months before I moved to Macon late in 1995, I had the pleasure to cover and watch Roland Bailey at Charlton County High School in Folkston. He was the best football player, the best athlete, I had ever seen in my life.
And, they called him Champ.
This weekend, Champ Bailey will enter his first Hall of Fame, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Macon. It likely won’t be his last.
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As a senior 22-plus years ago, Bailey ran wild all over football fields in south Georgia. He had 1,858 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. He had long touchdown runs, interceptions and great plays. For a television sports anchor like myself, Bailey was a highlight dream machine.
One game stood out. It was the next-to-last game of the regular season. Bailey’s Indians were playing at Atkinson County, some 90 miles away from the TV station I worked at in Brunswick. The game started at 8 p.m., and my show started at 11:15 p.m. So to send a photog that far away was a bit risky, especially if he had to spend an hour at the game.
We used good ol’ CB radios back then. And 25 minutes after the game started, my photog called in to the station. “I’m headed back,” he said. I was a bit shocked. Did something go wrong with the camera, maybe a tape issue?
“Why so early?” I asked, scared I wouldn’t get the highlights.
“I have all I need,” the photog replied.
“Please tell me you have some good highlights,” I pleaded. “Did Champ do anything?”
“I’ve got one 94-yard touchdown from him and another one for 86 yards,” he said. “Is that enough?”
All I could do was laugh.
“Be careful coming back,” I said.
Champ ran for 417 yards that night as Charlton County won 49-13. He had six touchdowns. And man, were our highlights good on the show.
He played some at quarterback, some at receiver and got his most success at running back that season. Bailey also played defensive back, picking up eight interceptions in his high school career.
When it was time to leave Folkston, Bailey followed in the footsteps of his older brother Ronald and went to the University of Georgia. Champ would then become one of the best two-way players ever in Athens. He also ran track and field in his spare time, and he did well in that, too.
Then it was off to the NFL, where Champ became one of the best cornerbacks in history. He played in Washington and Denver, and there’s only one stat needed to show his excellence. Bailey has the most Pro Bowl selections for a defensive back (12) in NFL history.
Bailey is the perfect Georgia Sports Hall of Famer. He was born in Georgia, played high school sports in Georgia and then college athletics in the state. Bailey moved on to play professionally, which only cinched his place in history.
He’ll be joined by former Crawford County basketball star Kenny “Sky” Walker, three-time gold medal Olympian Angelo Taylor, former Auburn star Tracy Rocker, Georgia golf coach Chris Haack, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, former Hawks and Flames owner Tom Cousins and Terry Moody Hancock, the first Georgia women’s golfer to play on the LPGA tour.
It’ll be my honor to again host the jacket ceremony Friday night at the Hall of Fame museum. I never could have thought when I made those trips to Folkston to interview Champ so many years ago that I would one day welcome him into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
You can come meet Bailey and the other inductees Saturday at the free Fan Fest starting at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Then the Induction Ceremony will be Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the City Auditorium. For tickets to that event, call the Hall of Fame at 478-752-1585.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.