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As Pro Football Hall of Fame's Centennial Slate unveiled, former Broncos LB Randy Gradishar narrowly misses the cut

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For Broncos fans tuning in Wednesday morning to see who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Centennial Slate, there was one glaring omission.

The man who held together the famed Orange Crush defense, linebacker Randy Gradishar, was not part of the class.

Ten seniors players were elected to the Hall of Fame's Centennial Slate during a broadcast on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" program on Wednesday morning, and it had seemed like Gradishar had a good shot to make the cut considering his accolades and statistics when he was originally announced as one of the 20 finalists.

The former Bronco carved out one of the most prolific careers in franchise history during his 10 years in Denver, earning seven Pro Bowls and the 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. It was behind Gradishar's outstanding tackling, football IQ and leadership on the Orange Crush defense that the Broncos went to their first Super Bowl in 1977.

Perhaps nobody is better able to observe what made Gradishar so good than the architect of that defense, defensive coordinator Joe Collier.

"Every year that he played, he led our team in tackles," Collier said Tuesday. "He was good. He was very good. He was a linchpin of our 3-4 defense. … We ended up being, at that period of time, the number one defense as far as short-yardage, goal-line and inside the 20. Statistics weren't kept on that kind of stuff at the time. But the fact that we were so good on short-yardage and goal-line defense was Randy. Randy was probably the best short-yardage, goal-line type of middle linebacker in the history of the NFL, really."

Gradishar, who arrived in Denver as the 14th-overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft after a great collegiate career at Ohio State, played in 145 career NFL games, totaled 2,049 tackles, 19.5 sacks 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns.

He also earned two first-team and three second-team All-Pro selections from the Associated Press.

"He was so dependable, and he never missed a game," Collier said. "Very rarely did he miss a practice. He was always right up in front in meeting rooms when we were working on game plans and that kind of stuff. So, he was kind of the leader of that group that we had during those years. Those things are kind of intangibles, you know, that aren't statistically proven. … He was a pure football player. He just did everything very well. A well-rounded player, worked very hard in practice, worked very hard in the weight room, worked very hard in film study — all that kind of stuff that make what I consider good players and pure football players."

For now, the Orange Crush still has no members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, unlike other famous defenses of the 1970s like Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, Minnesota's Purple People Eaters and Miami's No-Name Defense of the 1970s.

But for Gradishar, the Broncos faithful hope his time will come soon enough.

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