On Thursday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the names of 54 semifinalists for the Class of 2023 from the Seniors and Coach/Contributors categories. Included are three legendary Broncos: linebacker Randy Gradishar and coaches Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan.
Each of the three have a great case, and over the years, many of the game's great players, coaches and reporters have said why.
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in 2021: "Randy Gradishar, by far, is probably the most deserving guy to get into the Hall of Fame now, as far as when you look back now at the history of the NFL and what he did. He led the Broncos and Orange Crush defense back in the late '70s. I was fortunate to play with him my rookie year and get a chance to see him. What they did defensively and Randy being the general of that defense and the statistics that they had and getting to the Super Bowl in 1977 and Randy was the leader of that, there's not a guy more deserving on the defensive side when you talk about the Orange Crush defense, as dominant as they were back in the late '70s and early '80s.
"… Randy was the general of that. … [He's a] guy that's very, very deserving. Hopefully that happens soon, because there's not anybody more deserving than Randy."
Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure in 2003: "Without a doubt, Randy Gradishar should be in the Hall of Fame. I played against Randy both in college and pro ball. Being an offensive guard, I went head to head with Randy. He was, along with Jack Lambert, the best linebacker that I ever played against.
"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. 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."
Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent in 2010: "Randy Gradishar absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I'm surprised he is not in already."
Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary in 2000 on his rookie season: "I wanted to be in their class — Jack Lambert, Scott Studwell, Randy Gradishar. … I studied them like crazy and tried to figure out what they were reading, what they were seeing."
Longtime Denver reporter Woody Paige in 1995: "He is the greatest guy I've ever seen on third and short. No one has ever been better in the game. He must've stopped third-and-one and fourth-and-one 100 times in his career."
Longtime ESPN NFL studio host Chris Berman in 2010: "Without fanfare, he was the model of Hall of Fame efficiency in the middle of that great Denver 'Orange Crush' defense. His play was overshadowed only by his class."
Former Pro Football Weekly analyst Joel Buchsbaum in 2002: "Maybe the smartest and most underrated ever. Had rare instincts, was faster than Lambert and very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The fact he is not in the Hall of Fame is a shame and may be attributed to the fact he was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me type of player."
Orange Crush defensive coordinator Joe Collier in 2021: "I've known for years that Randy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. To me, he was one of the top linebackers in the history of the NFL, and I'm very sorry that he's not been able to get into the Hall of Fame by now. …
"He had the attributes that you need in a linebacker. He had the size. He was about 6-3 and 230. He had the speed. He was very intelligent. He led our defense in calls and all that stuff. And he was very durable. He didn't miss any games."
Elway in 2022: "Dan was a winner. I owe a lot to him — he was instrumental in my career and growth as a quarterback. We were able to win a lot of football games together, going to three Super Bowls and competing every single year at a high level.
"With Dan, you knew you were going to be in every game. You always had a chance with him on your sideline. As the head coach, Dan was tough but fair. I respected him for that. We may not have always seen eye to eye, but the bottom line is we won a lot of games together. Looking back, what I appreciate about Dan is how he gradually brought me along to help me reach my potential.
"When you look at all Dan did in this league with all the success, all the Super Bowls and all the wins, I don't think there is any question he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What he's been able to do — taking two different teams to four Super Bowls and going to nine Super Bowls overall — is incredible. That speaks for just how far-reaching his impact was throughout this league not only as a coach but also what he did as a player.
Broncos Ring of Fame head coach Mike Shanahan in 2022: "Dan Reeves was one of the most competitive people I had ever been around. Dan's three Super Bowls in four years set a standard and culture in Denver that anything less was unacceptable. Dan leaves a lasting legacy as both a person and coach. Dan's family was always his highest priority, and he still managed to be one of the NFL's winningest coaches of all time with over 200 wins. I'm looking forward to the day that Dan Reeves is inducted into the Hall of Fame."
Longtime NFL reporter Peter King in 2022: "Reeves deserves a bust in Canton. 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."
Pro Football Hall of Fame personnel executive Gil Brandt in 2021: "Seriously, how is Dan Reeves not in the HOF? Played or coached in 9 Super Bowls. Two-time SB champ, two-time coach of the year."
Elway in 2021: "[H]ow far ahead of the game he was and how good he was on the offensive side, and that's why Mike deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, because of the innovation of what he did on the offensive side, the West Coast offense, and really taking it to the next level with the idea of what the running game is still number one and we have to run the football and everything was built off that," Elway said. "But I think his influence because of the young [coaches] — you talk about his son, Kyle, but also all his coaching tree that has branched out through the NFL, and they've all been fairly successful running this system."
Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe in 2020: "Before Mike got there, we hoped to win. If we did this right or did that right, maybe if the other team had an off day, we could win. With Mike, we were expected to win. We expected to play well, and it was very disappointing when we did not win."
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher in 2020: "Mike Shanahan belongs in the Hall of Fame. 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."
Rams head coach Sean McVay in 2020: "The excellence was something that was consistent in him day in and day out," McVay said. "He had an incredible resilience just in terms of his work capacity. Guys respected him. He understood everything that was going on in the game — offense, defense, special teams. Just the command was so evident, [and] his ability to connect with the players.
"And being able to marry the run and pass game, trying to be able to create conflict for the defense, so much of the foundation of what our offense has been and the success we've had here is a reflection of what I've learned from him, what I've learned from Kyle and working under Coach Shanahan was such a blessing. I take so much of that with me, and I think it's been instrumental in a lot of the success that we've had here."
Former Broncos guard Mark Schlereth in 2021: "The fact that this guy is not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty. He needs to go directly to the Hall of Fame. … There are a ton of teams running a variation of what Mike Shanahan created. And Mike Shanahan, really, he was the first."