ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A Broncos legend considered to be a major snub from the Pro Football Hall of Fame may finally get his shot next week.
And Broncos Ring of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar feels as good about his chances as he has in quite a while.
"This is the first year in a long time that I've felt there's a real possibility of possibly getting in the Hall of Fame," Gradishar said Tuesday.
In late July, Gradishar was named one of 12 Senior candidates who could receive final consideration for the Class of 2023, and he will find out on Tuesday if he'll take the penultimate step toward joining the game's greatest players in Canton.
During next week's vote, three senior candidates will be chosen as final nominees for next year's enshrinement. The entire Hall of Fame committee will then vote whether to elect the Senior nominees, Coach/Contributor nominees and Modern-Era finalists early next year.
Ken Anderson, Maxie Baughan, Chuck Howley, Cecil Isbell, Joe Klecko, Bob Kuechenberg, Eddie Meador, Tommy Nobis, Ken Riley, Sterling Sharpe and Everson Walls are the other Senior finalists who could be chosen to advance to the next stage.
Gradishar, a seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro and 1978 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year is one of the most accomplished Broncos defenders of all time. A leader of the iconic "Orange Crush" defense of the late 1970s, Gradishar helped lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1977.
One look at Gradishar's career stats would suggest that he is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame: 2,049 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns in 145 games. Despite this dominance, Gradishar has never been honored in Canton — though he has been chosen as a finalist three times in the past.
"With this opportunity to be considered a finalist … it'll be exciting to see how it's all going to turn out," Gradishar said. "It just, again, would be a major blessing for me just to be considered and to have that opportunity to be in the Hall of Fame."
He has been waiting for the call from Canton for decades, seeing players honored in the Hall of Fame whom he says he outperformed. Gradishar noted several excuses he's received over the years that attempted to justify his exclusion, such as allegedly inflated numbers from when teams recorded their own stats and the difference in time zone.
Gradishar said that he believes he should be a Hall of Famer, but he won't lose sleep over it.
"I believe it's all in God's timing, and whether I get in or don't get in is not going to change my life," Gradishar said. "Those honors come as an honor, so I just kind of keep waiting and depend on people to see what my statistics were during when I played. I've heard, what I call, a lot of excuses over the years. That's my own personal feeling about that. When I look at my statistics compared to some of the guys' statistics that are already in there, mine are a little bit better."
Broncos Country still has great memories of the Orange Crush defense, and Gradishar looks back on that time in his career fondly. The 1977 Broncos squad was a lockdown group, posting an impressive record en route to a Super Bowl berth.
"Well, it was just a great honor to be a major part of that," Gradishar said. "Thanks to [former head coach/general manager] John Ralston … he drafted that whole defense. And [former head coach] Red Miller comes in, and Red just did a great job, and our defense did a great job also. Having that year back in 1977, going 12-2, I was talking to Tommy Jackson on the bench [during] one of the games — I said, 'Tommy, we're 12 and two! The Broncos have never done that ever before.' That was kind of fun, and then we played the Steelers, then we played the Raiders, and then go down to Super Bowl XII. It was a very, 'Make the miracle happen, Jon Keyworth' scenario in '77."
Dr. Condoleezza Rice, a member of the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group that just purchased the Broncos, talked during Wednesday's introductory press conference about her memories of watching the Orange Crush defense while attending the University of Denver.
Gradishar said he is honored to have played a part in bringing joy to Dr. Rice and the entire generation of Broncos fans that watched them reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
"Condoleezza certainly followed [the team] back then, and I heard about that coming from the news yesterday," Gradishar said. "That was just real nice — that was a great era for the Broncos. And as we all know, we certainly started winning more games than we lost games. Having that opportunity back in '77, just going out, the people in Colorado were all going crazy. … That set a lot of great history for the Broncos organization."
As the Hall of Fame announcement approaches, Gradishar hopes to receive the highly anticipated call. But even if it doesn't come, he is grateful for everything he has already accomplished.
"It was just a blessing to be able to say I'm a finalist, and I'm one of 12," Gradishar said. "We'll kind of just have to wait and see how this comes out next Tuesday."