ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Senior Committee met Tuesday to nominate a finalist for the Class of 2021, Broncos Ring of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar had another shot at pro football immortality.
Instead, the Senior Committee chose to nominate former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson as its lone finalist nominee for the Class of 2021, and Gradishar's wait will continue for at least another year.
ESPN reporter and Hall of Fame voter Jeff Legwold was a strong supporter for Gradishar during the meeting, and he spoke with DenverBroncos.com about the linebacker who patrolled the middle of the field for the famed Orange Crush defense while earning seven Pro Bowl selections, two AP first-team All-Pro nods and 1978 AP Defensive Player of the Year honors.
In our conversation with Legwold, we dove into the Committee's meeting, the case for Gradishar going forward and the Hall of Fame chances for two former Broncos head coaches.
Aric DiLalla: Can you take me through the meeting and the responsibility you have in it?
Jeff Legwold: "There are nine people on the Senior Committee for the Hall of Fame. Traditionally, five of the nine meet each August to pick the senior finalist for the next class, and ordinarily we'd go to Canton to do it, but today, like all things these days, we did it over Zoom. So we had, I believe there were 12 candidates that we took down to one to pick the senior finalist. Now, that senior finalist will go to the full board of selectors at some point before the Super Bowl, however they decide to pick the class when that time rolls around, if people can travel then or whatever; they haven't decided all that. And then the coaches category is new this year from the Hall. The board of directors from the Hall of Fame just made that change. So instead of two seniors and one contributor finalist going to the board of selectors, this year it's one coach, one senior and one contributor. And today we picked the coach and the senior. So that's kind of how it went today.
"It's like a normal meeting. Presentations are made about each one, people ask questions, there's discussion. There are also two Hall of Famers every year who participate … to offer analysis. … This year it was Gil Brandt and Dick LeBeau."
AD: So you presented Randy Gradishar, is that correct?
JL: "I led the discussion, and he's come up before, so a lot of the guys on the meeting know how strongly I feel about it. … I try to bring some new interviews either from former teammates or opponents to the table, but yeah, I did the discussion. It was a great discussion. He continues to have a lot of support; it's just, as we say every year, you could take all 12 of those people, and they are Hall of Famers — and that's the issue. You only get one slot and we vote on it. ... I know fans and Randy himself are tired of tired of waiting, but he is still at least being discussed. We discussed a couple candidates today, Ken Riley being one of them, who I believe is fourth all time in interceptions in league history. It was the first time he had ever been discussed, either by the regular board of selectors or the Senior Committee. It just tells you what it's like. I'm not happy that Randy continues to wait, but … he at least has to be discussed before he can go in. I think it's good that he's still among the candidates we're still talking about each time. He had a lot of support on the Centennial Committee last year, which included Bill Belichick and Ron Wolf and many others — John Madden. I was in there with some of the other board of selectors. But he had a ton of support in that meeting last year, and he still has a ton of support. … I'll keep trying to argue the points every time his name comes up."
AD: A lot of times you can kind of sense momentum building up for some modern-era candidates, like Steve Atwater in recent years. Do you get a similar kind of sense with Gradishar, that his case is growing or gaining momentum in any way?
JL: "I think people recognize — I mean I've said it to people. He was the most-decorated player on the Centennial Slate list and he was the most-decorated player on the list we considered today. I think it's just purely numbers and how difficult it is. You know, Drew Pearson, who was selected as the finalist, he's the only All-Decade player from the '70s who isn't in the Hall of Fame. The people who know him and his family and the fans of him feel as strongly about him as people here do about Randy. So I think that's part of the issue; everybody on that list has a really good case and has waited a long, long time — or you would not be a senior candidate. But I'll continue to just say, 'Hey, he is the most-decorated player on that list,' and I'm always going to think that he has a lot of support, because he wouldn't still keep coming into the discussion if there was not a lot of support. We vote on a long list of players every year just to narrow the field to 12 or 13 that we talk about in the meeting. To keep making it that far shows you he has a lot of support, because the list of eligible players for the seniors consideration is hundreds of players long. That tells me you've got to be in it to win it. I think he's still being discussed. I think that's a good thing. Yes, I talk to Randy a lot; I know he's frustrated with the process and waiting, and I know an awful lot of fans of his who watched him play and loved how he handled his business in his NFL career. So I know those people are frustrated, because I hear from them all the time. I know where people stand here. I do think he has a lot of support and all you can do is keep participating in the process. You can't just throw up your hands and say, 'Never mind.'"
AD: How long are they going to do this one coach, one contributor, one senior process?
JL: "Four years. They'll do it for four years; this is the first of the four years and then the Hall's board of directors will look again and see what they think. I hope they'll go back to two seniors, because I think that list is the biggest and needs the most attention, even after the Centennial Class."
AD: On the Coaches Committee, what were the discussions like for Dan Reeves? He was on that Centennial Slate list of finalists. Also, did Mike Shanahan get brought up?
JL: "Those guys were in the initial discussions we had and we traded information and then took a vote before today. It was a little while ago, a couple weeks ago maybe. Dan and Mike at that point didn't make the final five or six. But that's the first time Mike's name has ever appeared on the list down to the final cutdown. So I think that's a good thing, and I think Mike Shanahan is a Hall of Fame coach, certainly. And I argued Dan Reeves' case in the Centennial Class because I think he's a Hall of Fame coach. The Broncos have two of the winningest coaches in league history, and they're one of the most successful franchises. They are part of the two bigger omissions in the Hall of Fame overall, which I think are: no players from the Orange Crush defense, and no coaches from one of the most-successful teams in the league's history. I think they both deserve to be in, and I hope they get more and more discussion, Mike in particular. They're both on very short lists when it comes to victories and what they did with teams. So they're on the shortest of lists, and that means you should be in the Hall of Fame if you are on lists that are that short, in terms of success and what you did with your career."