|07-20-2008, 10:41 AM||#1|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: May 2001
"There's No Place Like Home" (article on Champ and Boss)
Georgia on their minds
By Mike Klis
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 07/20/2008 12:55:13 AM MDT
FOLKSTON, Ga. — There wasn't much room for it, and there were the usual signs of neglect.
No net. A rusted backboard. Bent rim. Nevertheless, the transportable basketball hoop had become a magnet for neighborhood activities. It was around suppertime, between downpours on a midsummer day, and the air was sweating.
Moving within a 10-foot radius of the ironed circle were five boys, all shirtless, not an ounce of fat anywhere. There were smiles during horseplay, although there were hints the game was but a few minutes shy of serious. Girls were approaching from both sides of the road, oblivious to the boys, intent on conversation.
The nearby yards were covered with green grass, toys and bikes, randomly scattered outside tiny houses set on cement blocks, a foundation necessity in the southern Georgia swampland.
"This area here is where the boys grew up," said Elaine Bailey, who was serving as a tour guide from the passenger seat in the white rental car with the convertible black top. "This is pretty much where they hung out."
The new kids on the block seemed to know how good they had it. It wasn't that long ago, back in the day of Champ and Boss Bailey, this street was dirt, not blacktopped.
"Any way to get dirty, that's pretty much what we did," Champ Bailey said. "That pretty much was all there was to do."
If there is a lesson Folkston kids received from the Bailey brothers, who grew up to become well-compensated defensive starters for the Broncos, it's that a child doesn't need much to have plenty.
Colorado's kids should come here and see the narrow, sandy quagmire that passes for the varsity track at Charlton County High School.
"Hey, we won a state championship (practicing) on that track," Champ said.
"What I tell people about Folkston is, if you blink you'll miss it," Boss Bailey said. "And that while Folkston is a small town, a real small town, it's foremost a football town."
Approximately 2,200 people have
Elaine Bailey's three sons Ron, Champ and Boss provided her with many memorable moments when they played at the University of Georgia. (Jake Roth, Special to The Denver Post )settled here near the Okefenokee Swamp, yet like the miracle of the loaves and fish near Bethsaida, the powerhouse football program built by Rich McWhorter will draw 3,000 to 4,000 for a Friday night game.
Folkston is a town of 23 churches and — Lord help its visitors — no bars. Main Street could also be called Only Street for all the storefronts or eating establishments located elsewhere. A $10 bill goes a long way. Elaine Bailey was told she could pick any restaurant, her guest would treat. Steak, lobster, whatever.
She picked Quick Chic, where the golden shine on the fried chicken means more to the Bailey brothers than all those football artifacts in Mom's Georgia Bulldog-red room.
( | )telling you, every time we come home, we go to that place," Champ said. "You can't get better chicken anywhere else."
Folkston could not stop the inevitability of McDonald's, Burger King and Sonic settling on its small strip of U.S. 1, which in turn required a third stoplight to handle it all. But this is still a place that can be toured in 45 minutes, if only the tourists could be pulled away from train-watching at the Folkston Funnel.
"I don't know if we're so much growing as we're reshaping a little bit," said McWhorter, who 20 years ago transplanted here from central Illinois. "But still, the joke around here is if you want a hamburger or you want a pizza, you have to go to a gas station to get it. The best pizza in town is at a gas station."
From these humble roots sprouted a uniquely talented football family. Champ Bailey, the all-world cornerback, has been with the Broncos going on five years. This season, he will be joined by his younger but much bigger brother Boss, a strongside linebacker who received the Broncos' largest offseason contract at $17.5 million over five years.
The Baileys will become the Broncos' first brother combination to start on the same side of the ball since Doug and Dave Widell shared the offensive line for eight games from 1990-92.
Champ has already been to eight Pro Bowls and has been widely considered the league's most complete defensive back the past three seasons. Nothing has moved him, though, more than the anticipation of playing on the same team with his younger brother and best friend.
"It's a significant part of my career," Champ said. "It's something I didn't think would ever happen until Boss was going into his contract year. I asked Coach (Mike) Shanahan about it and he said, 'Well, let's wait until next year.' He couldn't talk to him. We talked about it in the offseason, and I'm just glad we could get it done because it means a lot to me that he's on my team."
Roland and Elaine Bailey may have split up 15 years ago, but they are forever united through their children. Schedule-toting Elaine likes her day to go a certain way. Easy-going Roland will take it any old way. Elaine pauses to consider before she speaks. Roland accompanies conversation with an easy laugh.
Elaine paid attention to how her guest took Diet Coke with his chicken one night so when she ordered pizza the next, a two-liter bottle was ready to pour. Later that night, Roland Sr. and his wife, Lawanda, decided rather than give directions from their Orange Park, Fla., home, they would make a 45-minute drive to escort their guest to his hotel parking lot.
They just don't make people like that.
"You lose your parents being together when there's a divorce, but you don't really lose anybody," Champ said. "I think the hardest part was trying to get comfortable with where we were living. But other than them not being together, everything went fine because we had so much support from the rest of our family."
Elaine never played sports and, far as she knows, there wasn't much athletic prowess on her side of the family. Then again, Champ has such a strong physical resemblance to Elaine's father, John Atwater, there's reason to suspect there was considerable untapped athleticism in her lineage.
Roland Sr. is a large man who played running back and linebacker — a cross between Champ and Boss — and was a sprinter at Charlton County High, where he graduated in 1972. But he's the first to admit he wasn't near the athlete his boys became.
Think of those world-class athletes who had kids and as it turned out, it was Roland Sr. and Elaine Bailey who produced the freakish football talents of Ron, Champ and Boss.
"Yeah, I think about that," Roland said. "I think about that all the time. And our daughter (Danielle) controls all of them."
Said Elaine: "When I think back to when they were in high school, I could only see my children going to college, getting a degree and just become a businessman, a businesswoman in the working world. But I never told any of my sons that you all are going to the NFL. I just looked at college being the stopping point. But then the next thing I know, there was all this talk about, 'the next level, the next level.' It started with Ron."
One that got away
The Baileys' story has its parallels to the Mannings'. Besides the famous Manning quarterbacks, Peyton and Eli, older brother Cooper also was a terrific football player whose career was cut short in college by a neck injury.
Broncos fans will follow every move of Champ and Boss, but older brother Ron was a two-year starting cornerback at Georgia before his career ended with a foot injury while representing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in NFL Europe.
Here in Folkston, it's not just Champ and Boss. The people don't talk about the Baileys' football prowess without also mentioning Ron.
"They were all good kids," said Larry Allen, who coached all three Bailey boys when they were 11 and 12 years old and now owns a hardware store located — where else? — on Main Street. "They were all good students. And they were all super athletes. For a small town like Folkston, you don't run across that type of family. Ron and Boss had to work for everything they got. And Champ, God blessed him in ways he doesn't bless many people. In his two seasons, I think he scored like 92 touchdowns."
Bringing it back
Champ and Boss don't get back as much as they'd like, but they never miss Easter. This year, the three Bailey brothers and a cousin hosted a three-day party. Good Friday was for friends and relatives who gathered at the two-story brick home Champ bought for his mother. Saturday night was a semi-formal, sit-down dinner at a large tent set up just outside town. It was open to all of Folkston and the surrounding area. More than 300 showed up for the free food, free drink and free live music.
Easter Sunday, word got around. Close to a thousand showed up for the all-day party.
"I was out there for their Easter party," said Henry Minchey, who was happy to learn he lives in the same upstairs, three-bedroom apartment the four Bailey children once shared with their mother during Champ's high school years. "Seemed like the same old Champ and Boss to me."
The Bailey boys say they probably won't ever move back to Folkston, but Mom isn't going anywhere, so they'll always go back.
"It was a great town to grow up in," Boss said. "Everybody knew each other and took care of each other. I wouldn't want to move back there, but it will always be home."
Last edited by Sassy; 07-20-2008 at 10:48 AM..