As Broncos Country celebrates the induction of new Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and John Lynch and Steve Atwater, there is one legendary Bronco who is still waiting to punch his ticket to Canton.
Linebacker Randy Gradishar was a fixture of the Broncos' famous "Orange Crush" defense in the 1970s. He was drafted in the first round in 1974 and spent his full 10-year NFL tenure with the Broncos, leading the team to its first Super Bowl appearance in 1977. Grandishar amassed a seemingly endless collection of accolades during his career, and racked up an incredible amount of tackles along the way.
"Randy Gradishar was one of the greatest NFL linebackers on one of the NFL’s greatest defenses," Clark Judge of Sports Illustrated's Talk of Fame Network wrote in April. "He played 10 years for the Denver Broncos, was a seven-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro and 1978 Defensive Player of the Year who was credited with … get this … over 2,000 tackles in his career."
Though he has been selected as a finalist for the HOF three separate times (2003, 2008 and 2020), Gradishar has yet to secure his spot in the Hall. In fact, no member of the 'Orange Crush' defense has received a gold jacket.
Gradishar's career accomplishments put him in rare company; he is among only 10 linebackers to tally a minimum of 20 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries and seven Pro Bowl selections in NFL history. The other nine? They're all already in the Hall.
"The other nine are Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Jack Lambert, Brian Urlacher, Willie Lanier, Ted Hendricks, Jack Ham and Chuck Bednarik," Judge wrote. "All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Six were first-ballot Hall of Famers, and the three others were named within the first two years of eligibility."
Perhaps nobody is more perplexed by this omission than Gradishar's former defensive coordinator and creator of the "Orange Crush" defense, Joe Collier.
"Every year that he played, he led our team in tackles," Collier said in 2020. "He was good. He was very good. He was a linchpin of our 3-4 defense."
Voting by the HOF's Seniors Committee on selecting a finalist for the 2022 Class will be the next opportunity for Gradishar's legacy to be cemented in Canton. For Broncos Country and for everyone who coached or played with Gradishar, it's not a question of whether or not he should be inducted — it's a matter of when he will finally be recognized.
"I've known for years that Randy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," Collier said.
Below the Fold
Following a dominant win over the Vikings on Saturday, praise for Denver's playmakers on both sides of the ball has been abundant. Among that acclaim is Gregg Rosenthal of Around the NFL's analysis of each team's performance from Week 1 of the preseason.
Rosenthal heaped praise on the Broncos offense, shining a light on both the run and the pass game, as well as the offensive line.
He was complimentary of the starting job by QB Drew Lock, but wrote that "the depth of Denver's offensive talent stood out even more."
This is a great sign for the Broncos, who have invested heavily in their O-line over the past few offseasons. It's clearly paying off.
Rosenthal also had nothing but good things to say about young playmakers WR KJ Hamler and RB Javonte Williams.
"Second-year pro Hamler, nominally the team's fourth wideout, is going to be a problem in single coverage," Rosenthal wrote. "His speed pops off the screen, as does rookie running back Williams' vision. Williams is such a classic zone runner, and his instincts for finding the soft spot of the defense stood out, like it did in college. He had a great touchdown run called back because of a penalty and will team with Melvin Gordon to make one of the better 1-2 punches in football."
Next, Rosenthal addressed the talented duo the Broncos have at TE.
"At tight end, Noah Fant is due for a Pro Bowl season," Rosenthal said, "while second-year pro Albert Okwuegbunam is the most talented backup in football."
If Saturday's performance in Minnesota, despite being a preseason matchup, is any indication of what the Broncos' offensive playmakers are capable of, then Denver's high-powered offense will be a problem for opposing defenses all season long.