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Sacco Sez: Randy Gradishar deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame

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It is a new year, and in football as in every other walk of life, it is a time for new hope and new beginnings.

Clearly, the entire Denver Broncos organization and all of Broncos Country is excited about how 2019 ended and about the prospects for 2020.

But the first thing that will happen relative to the Broncos is the selection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Centennial Slate by a blue-ribbon panel in celebration of the NFL's 100th season. The Slate will be made up of 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Two Broncos are eligible for consideration: linebacker Randy Gradishar and head coach Dan Reeves.

I will discuss Dan and his most-deserving candidacy next week.

But for now, this is all about Gradishar, one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game.

A seven-time Pro Bowler (the most among anyone under consideration), former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1978) and leader of Denver's magnificent "Orange Crush" defense, Gradishar is one of the 20 senior player finalists for 10 spots in the Hall.

He truly deserves it, and those who watched him play always knew it.

Described by legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes as "the best linebacker I ever coached," Gradishar was a three-down linebacker for whom I had the pleasure of being the public relations man, but really, Randy did not need much help in that regard.

He was as polite, respectful and agreeable with the press as anyone I ever worked with.

On the field, he was like Joe DiMaggio — he just made it seem so easy, so natural.

Randy made all the tackles.

According to Clark Judge — a highly esteemed writer and friend, and one of the voters — Pro Football Weekly personnel scout Joel Buchsbaum said he was "maybe the smartest and most underrated. Had rare instincts, was faster than [Hall of Fame Steelers linebacker Jack] Lambert, and very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations."

In fact, my first Denver Post beat man, Joe Sanchez, who covered the team until his retirement, has often said, "Gradishar was the best third- or fourth-and-short linebacker in football."

Fans at Mile High Stadium would buzz with anticipation when the opponent went for it on fourth and one. That was Gradishar's meat, and he never seemed to disappoint.

"He was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me type of player," Buchsbaum added.

In Gradishar's 10 years of play, we (the Broncos, and I took every one of our published tackle stats from legendary defensive coordinator Joe Collier) credited Randy with over 2,000 tackles, including assists of course.

While those numbers are subjective to the observer, Broncos Ring of Famer and longtime ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, a teammate of Gradishar's, has said, "the problem people never seem to understand is that Randy actually was that good.

"There was no need to embellish anything he ever did."

Gradishar was the centerpiece of a defense that recently had nine of its starters named to the Broncos' Top 100 Team, led Denver to four playoffs, two AFC West titles and one AFC Championship.

When Pro Football Weekly chose its all-time 3-4 defense, it named Gradishar, Lawrence Taylor, Andre Tippett and Harry Carson to the team.

All are in the Hall but Gradishar, and it is well past time to add him to that illustrious list.

Collier called him "the best player I've ever seen," and fellow Ring of Famer and Hall of Fame candidate Dan Reeves has said, "Gradishar is as good as any linebacker I've been around, and I've been around some great ones."

The Football Encyclopedia not only lists all the players who ever played in a game, but prints articles by the game's historians, and the Encyclopedia did its own list of the game's 250 greatest players, with Gradishar among the linebackers on that list.

It was a pleasure and an honor to work with him every day, and to know him in retirement as one who gives freely of his time to civic organizations.

He has made numerous trips overseas to visit our troops, never with any fanfare at all, because that just would not be Randy.

Of all the players in football history who ever played nine years and made the Pro Bowl 70 percent of the time, there are 46, by my count. Forty-three are in the Hall, number 44 is former Broncos safety Steve Atwater and number 45 is Gradishar. Randy is actually tied with Kansas City defensive lineman Jerry Mays, who is not a candidate by this committee.

No better linebacker ever came out of Ohio State, the Big Ten or the Denver Broncos, and I fervently hope he is selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this month.

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