NEWARK. N.J. – If Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin is the so-called X-factor in the Super Bowl, then Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey very well could become the X-out factor.
The 35-year-old is finally making his Super Bowl debut in his 15th NFL season in part because of what he was able to do in Denver’s victory over New England in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 19. In that game, Bailey had a quiet three tackles, but also helped hold Patriots slot receiver Danny Amendola dead silent with zero catches while being targeted a season-low one time.
Not bad for an old guy whose role has changed over the years, from premier NFL shutdown corner to selfless nickel back who is playing inside over the slot receiver on passing downs only for the first time since his second season in Washington.
“I think he’s handled his role great,” Broncos defensive coordinator and former Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio said. “You’re talking about one of the real classy, longstanding, great players in this league. His work ethic, the way he conducts himself, the way he carries himself — I think it’s a great example for the younger players. He’s been terrific.”
Bailey, who is third among active players with 52 career interceptions, missed 11 games this season because of foot and ankle injuries. But he has played in each of Denver’s past four games and said he is healthy heading into the biggest and what could be final game of a career that began as the seventh pick of the 1999 NFL draft.
“He’s playing his best football and it’s a great time for him to be doing so,” Del Rio said. “He’s an important piece to what we’re doing right now.”
Del Rio obviously wasn’t going to reveal how the Broncos will handle Harvin, who has played only parts of two games this season because of a hip injury that wiped out all but one regular-season game and a concussion that knocked him out of the divisional playoff victory over the Saints.
“We have two weeks to prepare,” Del Rio said. “We’ll look at what he did in Minnesota. We’ll go back and even look at how he was used at Florida.”
Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who also coached Harvin in that capacity with the Vikings in 2009 and 2010, said Harvin is “full-go” and available to be used in any way, but added that “we’re still a running team. Percy is not going to touch the ball more than [running back] Marshawn Lynch, let’s put it that way.”
That doesn’t mean Harvin isn’t capable to having a huge impact on the game. For example, he touched the ball only twice in his one regular-season appearance. But both plays — a 58-yard kickoff return and a 17-yard catch on a key third-down conversion — were momentum swings in a 40-21 victory over the Vikings.
Bailey will be counted on heavily to prevent Harvin’s big plays on offense. The two have met on the field only once. Bailey won 35-32, but Harvin had eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
“He made us look bad a lot that day,” Bailey said. “Not sure what to expect [this week]. But one thing I do know is they will use him. He’s too good.”
Bailey said he’ll be ready. Asked how long he’s been waiting for this moment, he pulled up a chair, looked up, smiled and said, “I don’t know. How long have I been alive?”