DENVER — Champ Bailey didn't feel a need to wait for the end of the reporter's question. As they mentioned Mike Shanahan's recent election into the Broncos Ring of Fame, Bailey had heard enough.
"Finally," he said.
It may have taken some time for Shanahan, the team's all-time winningest coach, to earn the team's highest honor, but it's obviously well deserved. And what's more, Bailey said he believes Shanahan is overdue for induction into an even more exclusive group: the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He should be in the Hall of Fame," Bailey said Sunday at the FanDuel Fanfest. "Absolutely. I don't think there's any question of what he's done as a coach, even his days in 'San Fran' and you can go all the way back. The guy's been a winner everywhere he went. He's a first-class coach, he ran a first-class organization. Yeah, he's definitely a Hall of Famer."
After arriving in Denver in 2004 in an offseason trade, Bailey immediately began a remarkably productive run with Shanahan as his head coach. He turned in his first first-team All-Pro season that year, and then followed it up with two more in successive seasons. And during that first year in Denver, Bailey wanted to contribute in more ways than one, urging Shanahan to use his college skills as a two-way player at the NFL level.
"One thing about when I got here — man, he gave me a chance to do everything I wanted," Bailey said. "Play a little offense, run the ball, return a punt or two. He gave me a chance to do it. I was smart enough to kind of snap out of that, wanting to do everything, and he let me play corner and play it my way. He was a fun-loving coach. If you showed up and produced, he'd let you do what you wanted to do. That's all I needed."
Bailey then went on to reach his peak, recording 18 interceptions in a two-year span from 2005-06.
Another player who reached his potential during that span in part because of Shanahan's coaching was Bailey's teammate, Jake Plummer.
Plummer came to Denver a year before Bailey, signing as a free agent in 2003. He had shown promise in six up-and-down seasons with the Cardinals, but when he became a Bronco and worked more closely with Shanahan, Plummer finally found someone who truly believed in him.
"I've thanked him many times for just helping me kind of come out of Arizona, where I was hot early and went through a few years of nothing too fantastic, to getting here and going, 'OK, I'm a good quarterback. I can lead this team,'" Plummer said. "He gave me that opportunity, so I'm grateful."
In his first year as a Bronco, Plummer helped the team to a 9-2 record in his 11 starts, throwing for 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 62.6 completion percentage. Shanahan's offense and Plummer's combination of mobility and passing ability seemed like a perfect fit.
"He was awesome," Plummer said. "To come here and have a mastermind mad scientist that could dissect a defense, find film from 18 years ago that would put us in a good spot in the red zone … he knew the game inside and out and knew how to build a team around an offense and put me in a good position to succeed."
Greater success would follow, as Plummer threw for a career-best 27 touchdowns in 2004 and then helped the Broncos reach the AFC Championship Game after a 13-3 season in 2005. Though his time in Denver would come to end a year later, Plummer emphasizes that he and Shanahan have no bad blood over it.
"People thought I got a raw deal, but I got a pretty damn good deal here for four years getting to run the system we ran and win a lot of ball games," Plummer said.
And like Bailey, Plummer also thinks Shanahan is worthy of a gold jacket.
"I think so, for sure," Plummer said. "His record — won two Super Bowls — and just look at his tree, what they're doing right now. They're all over the league. That style, teams are trying to copy it. It's not easy. You've got to have the right personnel and the right coaches to do it. But he was a great coach. Of course we butted heads a little bit, but who doesn't when you're a competitor and you're trying to do the best thing? And maybe sometimes it was probably just him being the kind of coach he was, knowing he could bring a little bit more out of me if he rode me a little bit, and that's what a good coach does."