ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — One of the greatest defenders in Broncos history is one step away from being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On Wednesday, the Hall of Fame announced that its Seniors Committee selected Randy Gradishar as one of three Senior finalists that will join the Modern-Era finalists and Coach/Contributor finalist for consideration to be part of the Class of 2024.
In early 2024, the Hall's full Selection Committee will cast its votes to determine which finalists will be enshrined in Canton later that year.
"We are thrilled for Randy Gradishar to take this significant step closer to his long-awaited place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Broncos Owner & CEO Greg Penner said in a statement. "The heart and soul of the iconic Orange Crush defense, Randy is now on the doorstep of earning the game's highest honor. The Broncos congratulate Randy on becoming a Senior Finalist for the Class of 2024 and look forward to the full Selection Committee vote early next year."
This is Gradishar's fourth time as a Hall of Fame finalist. He was a Modern-Era finalist in 2003 and 2008, and as a Seniors candidate, he was a finalist for the Centennial Slate in 2020.
During his 10-year career in the NFL, Gradishar left his mark as one of the most dominant linebackers in NFL history. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he was among the greats at the position, helping make Denver's famous "Orange Crush" defense one of the most famous units of its time and leading it to the franchise's first Super Bowl berth.
In an era of pro football when running backs ruled on offense, linebackers were their natural adversaries on defense — and the most clever, ruthless and fundamentally sound made their mark at inside linebacker. And in the situations where it mattered most — short-yardage and at the goal line, there was perhaps no linebacker better than Gradishar at identifying plays, slipping the gaps and making the tackle, as longtime defensive coordinator Joe Collier said in 2020.
"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. … We ended up being, at that period of time, the number one defense as far as short-yardage, goal-line and inside the 20. Statistics weren't kept on that kind of stuff at the time. But the [reason] that we were so good on short-yardage and goal-line defense was Randy. Randy was probably the best short-yardage, goal-line type of middle linebacker in the history of the NFL, really."
A seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, Gradishar became the Broncos' all-time leading tackler with 2,049. He also had 19.5 sacks, 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns.
The 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is one of just 10 linebackers in NFL history with at least seven Pro Bowls, 20 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. Gradishar is the only player from that group that is not yet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Without a doubt, Randy Gradishar should be in the Hall of Fame," Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure said in 2003. "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."
Pretty soon, Gradishar may finally take his place in Canton.