We are embarking on a new NFL season, one that is truly unique in the annals of pro football.
The effects of COVID-19's spread already includes the postponement of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2020 enshrinement ceremonies, which will take place in 2021 alongside the induction of the 2021 class, too.
But the pandemic has not forced any delay in the selection of the upcoming class, and the Hall will continue to uphold its mission, which is to honor the game, both the obvious and the previously overlooked.
One of those overlooked, Randy Gradishar, played for the Denver Broncos from 1974, as a first-round draft choice out of Ohio State, through the 1983 season.
Despite a stellar record that probably should have placed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame years (decades?) ago, Gradishar remains on the outside of the Canton Hall and looking in — but his strong case could grant him entry soon.
He was credited with 2,049 total tackles, including assists, with each one of those meticulously calculated by longtime Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier.
"Randy was unbelievable," Collier says. "Some people have tried to say those tackle stats were padded, but I can assure you they were not. I personally watched every inch of film over and over; I kept those stats myself, and they were legit."
Former ESPN NFL analyst Tom Jackson, who played next to Gradishar for nine seasons in Denver, adds that, "The problem a lot of people fail to understand is that Randy actually was that good. He was that good."
Of course, tackles are not an official NFL statistic.
And just 4.5 of his 19.5 career sacks are "official," since that category did not become official until 1982, Gradishar's next-to-last season.
But let's take a comparative look at facts that are in all the books, the statistical trio of interceptions, fumble recoveries and Pro Bowl selections.
Through research compiled on pro-football-reference.com (with help from DNVR's Andrew Mason), Gradishar is one of 10 linebackers in NFL history with at least 20 interceptions (he had exactly 20), 10 or more fumble recoveries (he had 13), and a minimum of seven Pro Bowl appearances.
The other nine are Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Jack Lambert, Brian Urlacher, Willie Lanier, Ted Hendricks, Jack Ham, Dick Butkus, and Chuck "Concrete Charlie" Bednarik.
Eight of those linebackers were on the NFL 100 All-Time Team. Six of them were first-ballot Hall of Fame choices.
The others were inducted within two years of becoming eligible for Hall of Fame induction, so none of them had to wait more than nine years after their retirement for the gold jacket.
Gradishar has waited over 36 years, or longer than the lifespan of all but 34 active players at the end of the 2019 regular season.
A six-time All-Pro selection (1977 - Associated Press first team, Pro Football Weekly first team, Newspaper Enterprise Association second team; 1978 - AP first team, Pro Football Writers first team, NEA first team, Pro Football Weekly first team; 1979 - Pro Football Writers first team, Pro Football Weekly first team, AP second team, NEA second team; 1980 - Sporting News first team, NEA second team; 1981 - SN first team, Pro Football Weekly first team, AP second team, NEA second team; 1983 - AP second team), Gradishar was the AP Defensive Player of the Year and the ringleader of Denver's fabled Orange Crush defense, which led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl in 1977.
"In my 30-plus years of coaching, he was as good as the best," Collier adds. "He had an amazing ability to see blockers without taking his eye off the runner. Randy had an uncanny ability to stay on his feet and not get knocked down. Seriously, it was like he had radar, like a bat. He was a great leader as well."
"He is the greatest guy I've ever seen on third and short,"longtime Broncos beat reporter Woody Paige said in 1995. "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."
Collier seconds that, noting, "Randy was the best in the league in short yardage. Ask any coach of that era, and they will say Gradishar was by far the best short-yardage linebacker."
Opinions supporting Gradishar for the Hall of Fame are plentiful, but one keeps coming back to that 20-10-7 club.
All of those stats are recorded and real, and those other linebackers all went into the Hall of Fame, eight of whom were elected as soon as they became eligible or soon after.
But Gradishar had the same stats as they did, and he too should be in, and very soon maybe he will.
Now it is once again in the hands and minds of the voters.
Here's hoping the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame take a serious look at this 20-10-7 club and make the obvious decision. Randy Gradishar's name should be called for induction very soon.