ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Three former Broncos' Hall of Fame dreams are moving to the next step this year.
Former Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar and former head coaches Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan are among the 24 finalists from the Seniors Committee and Coach/Contributors Committee (12 from each) for consideration to be part of the Class of 2023.
Gradishar, who was a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, is seeking his fourth year as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he was a Modern-Era finalist twice and a Senior finalist for the 2020 Centennial Class.
During the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, Gradishar roamed the field as the heart of the Orange Crush defense that led Denver to its first Super Bowl. He was an instinctive tackling machine, and there was perhaps no better linebacker where it mattered most in that era: at the goal line or in short yardage.
"He had a nose for the ball, could play the run as well as the pass and played angles better than anyone who played the game," Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure said in 2003. "In short yardage, he made the Broncos the best in that category in the '70s and '80s. I could not believe it when he retired in 1983 because he was still at the top of his game, and in my opinion getting even better. I also find it unbelievable that Randy Gradishar is not in the Hall of Fame."
Reeves, inducted into the Broncos' Ring of Fame in 2014, led the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances in the 1980s, pushing the franchise to new heights. Paired with a franchise quarterback in John Elway, the longtime Broncos coach won 117 regular-season and playoff games combined. Only twice during his time in Denver did a team coached by Reeves fail to reach .500.
Overall, Reeves was twice named AP NFL Coach of the Year and won 201 total games. He also led a lengthy playing career prior to his coaching days; he appeared in 100 games for the Cowboys, won two Super Bowls for Dallas (including one as an assistant coach) and had a memorable moment in one of the finest NFL games ever when he threw a touchdown pass in the "Ice Bowl" in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.
"Reeves deserves a bust in Canton," longtime NFL reporter Peter King said in 2022. "He should be enshrined for Contributions to Pro Football. A man who was the biggest offensive weapon on the first great Dallas team, who threw a touchdown pass in the Ice Bowl, who was a gritty piece of the Cowboys at the birth of America's team, who was a key offensive assistant on seven Dallas teams in the seventies, who coached the Broncos to three AFC titles in four seasons, who won Coach of the Year with three different franchises, who won more games than all but eight coaches in NFL history."
Shanahan, who received his first NFL coaching opportunity from Reeves in 1984, is the winningest coach in franchise history, leading the team to its first two Super Bowl victories. In 14 seasons as the team's head coach, Shanahan helped Denver win more than 61 percent of its games.
Beyond the win-loss figures, Shanahan also left a remarkable legacy as an offensive mind. His zone-gap blocking scheme paved the way for Terrell Davis to become the fourth 2,000-yard rusher and created a balanced, explosive offense that pushed Denver to its first Lombardi Trophies.
"Mike Shanahan belongs in the Hall of Fame," Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher said in 2020. "I've said if there's two people I had a hard time – the two toughest coaches I had the hardest time to prepare against, Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan. …
"[Y]ou could never predict what he was going to call. He could open up the game with four straight passes, four straight runs. One time he opened up the game with four straight screens. So you never knew what to do. It was the package of the week, it was the philosophy of the week. He made you stay on your toes when you were trying to game plan against him."
In August, the finalists for the two categories will learn whether they will receive final consideration for the Class of 2023 along with the Modern-Era finalists. The Seniors Committee will select three former players from the finalists group on Aug. 16, and the Coach/Contributors Committee will pick one coach or contributor on Aug. 23.