Ward looking forward to facing college chum

PITTSBURGH – Early this week, Champ Bailey, the shutdown cornerback for the Denver Broncos, was busy "dissecting Pittsburgh's wide receivers," the Denver Post reported, "and has already taken a peek at those from Carolina and Seattle."

In other words, Bailey is taking an early peek at the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, on the other hand, is spending an awful lot of time thinking about Bailey, his former teammate at the University of Georgia.

"I remember a game we both were at wide receiver," Ward said. "We played Georgia Tech. They bracketed me and left that man one-on-one and he caught a little screen pass and went about 60 yards. That's when I knew he was going to be special."

Ward was a junior when Bailey came to Athens as a recruit. Ward showed him around campus.

"I'm the one who got him to Georgia," Ward said. "Even as a freshman you knew he was going to be special. He just kept developing and he is who he is today. He's an athlete now."

Bailey is the kind of athlete who can turn a playoff game around. He did it last Saturday.

The New England Patriots had pulled to within 10-6 of the Broncos in the third quarter, and quarterback Tom Brady was taking the Patriots in for the lead. On third-and-goal from the Denver 5, Brady threw to Troy Brown near the pylon. Bailey cut in front of Brown, picked it off and returned it 100 yards. Bailey eased up at the end of the run and was knocked out of bounds by Patriots tight end Ben Watson.

"Normally you don't see Champ get caught by too many people," Ward said. "But Ben Watson, hell, he went to Georgia, too."

Watson knocked Bailey and the ball out of bounds at the New England 1. The ball appeared to have been knocked out of the end zone, which would've resulted in a touchback and a turnover for the Patriots. But the replay wasn't conclusive and the Broncos scored on the next play. It was the turning point of the game.

"I think Champ will know next time not to let up, or he'll have to dive into the end zone or something," Ward said. "Hopefully we won't let him get that opportunity."

Ward has been thinking about how to beat Bailey, who normally lines up on the same side as Ward.

"Just watching him," Ward said, "he didn't switch or man up on anybody when they played the Patriots."

Has Bailey, a six-time Pro Bowler in his seven NFL seasons, ever shadowed anyone this season? The studious Ward knew the answer.

"Randy Moss," Ward said. "Randy didn't have many catches but they didn't throw the ball much. If he's going to follow me around, that's a big honor."

Ward doesn't expect it. After all, he's not in Moss's class in terms of deep speed. Ward probably impressed Bailey more with his passing while the two were at Georgia.

"There was one play where I lined up at quarterback," Ward said. "We motioned our quarterback out and I ended up at quarterback and I threw a screen to him. I think it went 15, 16 yards. That's the connection we had."

Will they rekindle their connection Sunday afternoon? Or will Ward simply tease Bailey about returning an interception 100 yards without scoring a touchdown?

"I will tease him," Ward promised. "But we are going to be going back to the old school -- just like one-on-one in practice drills -- for the game to go to the Super Bowl."

The last thing Bailey wants to hear about is Ward and his old-school tactics.

"When you cover him," Bailey said, "you're going to have to make a lot of tackles because he's going to be correcting the linebackers and safeties.

"If you are not an attacking corner, you just don't line up on his side because he definitely is involved in the running game as much as the pass game."

"He knows what style I play," Ward said. "He always says ‘Come on, man, with the physical stuff. We don't need all that.' So we're going to have our battles. But this is great because I've admired him and watched his career grow and he's truly one of the best cornerbacks in the league."

Ward has studied every move the Champ has made since he was a college freshman. Peeking ahead to the Super Bowl might not be in Bailey's best interest.


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