- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

Champ Bailey played three games against Peerless Price in college, the outcomes of which he has long since forgotten. In fact, the former Georgia cornerback has only one recollection of his encounters with the former Tennessee wide receiver.

“I remember I had a pick on him,” Bailey said. “I remember that.”

A cornerback remembering an interception. Go figure.

Five years since their last head-to-head meeting on a football field, Bailey and Price will have an opportunity to create some new memories Sunday when Price’s Atlanta Falcons play host to Bailey’s Washington Redskins.

Price vs. Bailey figures to be one of the game’s most significant head-to-head matchups, especially with Atlanta’s No.2 receiver, Brian Finneran, out with a broken hand. Based on their previous experiences in college, plus the first four years of their NFL careers, Bailey and Price have a wealth of respect for each other.

“He’s a polished receiver, he’s fast, he’s got great hands, he makes all the acrobatic catches he can make … he presents a lot of problems,” Bailey said. “I’d put him in the top-10 receivers in the league right now. So you definitely have to be prepared for him.”

The Falcons certainly think Price ranks among the game’s best, or else they wouldn’t have acquired him in an offseason trade with the Bills and signed him to a six-year, $35million contract.

The 26-year-old receiver, who caught 94 passes for 1,252 yards last season, is getting his first taste of life as a No.1 receiver in the NFL after playing alongside Eric Moulds in Buffalo. Which means he’s now finding himself matched up against some of the league’s best corners, with Bailey right near the top of the list.

“I think Champ, he understands the game,” Price said this week. “He understands down and distance. He kind of knows what to expect. I was watching him on film today, and he’s in the receiver’s hip pocket.”

Bailey, also in his fifth NFL season, is hitting his peak. He’s already made the Pro Bowl three times, and he suddenly finds himself in a contract year after the Redskins and his agent called off negotiations for an extension last week.

On the heels of Washington’s dominating defensive performance (158 yards allowed) in its opening victory against the New York Jets, Bailey feels he’s already in midseason form.

“I was pretty consistent last year,” he said. “I think it’s carrying over to this season. Right now, I feel like where I was after 10 or 11 weeks last year. … I think [experience] has a lot to do with it but also just working hard, never being satisfied.”

A good NFL cornerback keeps opposing quarterbacks from throwing the ball to his side of the field often, and Bailey already fits that bill. The Jets threw to top receiver Curtis Conway only four times, resulting in two completions for 28 yards.

Great NFL cornerbacks take advantage of those rare passes that come their way and turn them into big defensive plays. Bailey is attempting to ascend into that category — and Falcons coach Dan Reeves seems to think he’s already there.

“Usually, five or six plays will determine whether you’re going to win or not,” Reeves said this week. “And he’s one of those guys who can come up with two or three of them himself.”

It might be tough for Bailey to make a game-changing play or two Sunday. Price has the complete package for an NFL receiver: good speed, good hands, good routes.

Steve Spurrier has known this for years. The current Redskins and former Florida coach still raves about Price’s dominance on the college level, especially during Tennessee’s undefeated 1998 season (which included a victory over Spurrier’s Gators).

“Peerless won the national championship for Tennessee — you can quote me on that,” Spurrier said. “He made a big play in about five different close ballgames that they won. His ability just to make plays is his best quality, to go get the ball wherever it is: ‘Throw it up and I’ll go get it.’ Some players have a knack for doing that.”

Of course, Spurrier now has an elite defender to line up against Price, one who would like nothing more than to come up with another memorable interception against his old college rival.

“You’ve got to be ready — you’ve got to be pumped up,” Bailey said. “You’ve got to be confident that he can never beat you. That’s what I’m feeling right now.”

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