Fans look at busts at the Pro Football Hall of Fame before the 2012 enshrinement at Fawcett Stadium. (Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)
Over the past few months we have been dissecting the NFL Draft through mocks, film highlights, lists of teams’ needs, worrying about the non-existent love interests of some players and the off-the-field antics of others. We have been breaking down the combine and why player ‘A’ is a better value than player ‘B’ because his 40-yard dash time is .00005 seconds faster. It has been a whirlwind few months which have proceeded the Super Bowl. So what I want to do is rather than try to guess which one of the Denver Broncos’ 2013 draft picks are going to have a Hall of Fame career, is focus on which Broncos of the past DID have a Hall of Fame career and have been shut out to this point. In this first of several articles, I will focus on the anchor of the Orange Crush defenses of the 70’s and early 80’s: Randy Gradishar.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH houses the long history of this great game. It houses the busts of the men who are the very best to have thrown their bodies around the gridiron for our entertainment and amusement. Many of these men left it all on the field and all they have to show for it are the aches and pains brought on by years of Sundays of car crash-like collisions. And all for the love of the game. Some were lucky enough to have played in an era where their efforts were well compensated. Then there are the scant few whose preparation intersected with opportunity and led them to the HOF, or at least in the discussion. This is where I will do my part to convert the discussion to fruition. That is because there are several voids in those hallowed halls. Many of which left by the other 31 teams’ greats getting jilted, but I am going to focus on our greatest Broncos who have been incomprehensibly overlooked.
Randy Gradishar was drafted in the first round, 14th overall in the 1974 draft by then Denver Broncos head coach, John Ralston. He was a three year starter for Woody Hayes at The Ohio State University. There he earned consensus All-American selection in 1972 and unanimous All-American selection in 1973. His 320 tackles while at OSU still ranks 9th in school history. Also, the 1973 defense which he anchored allowed a paltry 64 points…ALL SEASON! He would go onto finish 6th in the 1973 Heisman Trophy voting. Coach Hayes said that Gradishar was:
“The best linebacker I ever coached!”
Halfway through his rookie season, Gradishar was installed as one of the starting middle linebackers. In 1975 he made his first of seven Pro-Bowl appearances. He was centerpiece, captain, and best player on the #9 all time best linebacking corps according to NFL Networks’ Top 1o series. He was a two time 1st team NFL All-Pro selection and the Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. Gradishar finished his career with 20.5 sacks, 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries, and 4 defensive touchdowns. His 2049 career tackles ranked #1 all time when he retired after the 1983 season. Randy’s impact is not only supported by his statistics, but by his peers and those who know the game.
“His range separated him from others at his position. A sure and determined tackler, he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation and athletic ability. His “play anticipation” was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact; which made him an incredible performer on third or fourth and short.” said the late, great Steve Sabol of NFL Films.
One of Gradishar’s contemporaries and great linebacker in his own right, Matt Millen had this to say:
“Randy Gradishar was one of the most productive players I’ve watched. He was always around the ball, rarely out of position, and constantly making plays. Linebackers are difficult to evaluate because there is a lack of statistics. But someone like a Randy Gradishar was easy to judge because of what he produced.”
Hall of Fame defensive lineman, Dan Hampton remembers asking Walter Payton (also a HOF’er and in my estimation, the greatest running back the game has ever seen):
“Walter, who gave you the hardest hit you ever took in the NFL?” Payton’s response, “Randy Gradishar, 1978”, said Hampton.
In January of 2008, Pro Football Weekly (Vol 22, Issue 29) named Gradishar to the “All 3-4 Defensive Team” along with Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor, Andre Tippett, Howie Long, Lee Roy Selmon, and Curley Culp. All of the aforementioned have their busts proudly displayed in Canton except Culp…and his will be displayed as of this coming August. So how is it that a man that belongs in such distinguished company can be the only one not elected to the Hall of Fame? Your guess is as good as mine. If Gradishar is to take is rightful place in Canton along side all the other greats of pro football, it will have to be via the Veteran’s Committee. So in case some of them need to have this debate simplified as to make their decisions easier, I have put together a side-by-side comparison with two of Gradishar’s teammates on the “All 3-4 Defensive Team” (Carson and Tippett) and Class of 2011 inductee, Chris Hanburger.
The bottom line is, you can stack Randy Gradishar’s numbers against any of his peers at the linebacker position and there is only one conclusion to be drawn. Those of us who reside on Broncos Planet should be converging on Canton sooner rather than later to cheer on their Orange Crush hero one last time as he is rightfully enshrined and his amazing career reaches its pinnacle.
|Randy Gradishar||Chris Hanburger||Harry Carson||Andre Tippett|
|Games Played (14 Game Schedule until 1978)||145||187||173||151|
|All-Pro (1st Team)||2||4||2||2|
|NFL DPOY||1 (1978)||0||0||1 (1985)|
|Sacks (Not a recoreded stat until 1982)||20.5||N/A||19||100|
|Hall Of Fame||????||2011||2006||2008|