With Floyd Little finally getting honored in the Hall of Fame, Randy Gradishar now becomes the greatest Hall of Fame omission in Denver Broncos history. Gradishar succeeded everywhere he went on the field of play. Selected number fourteen overall in the first round in the 1974 NFL draft by the Broncos, he quickly asserted himself as one of the leagues premier inside linebackers.
Gradishar became a Pro Bowler in just his second year, but his dominance really began to assert itself after the Broncos switched to the vaunted 3-4 Orange Crush in 1976. His primary responsibility was to control the inside rushing lanes and short passing. His intelligence combined with phenomenal instincts allowed him to be the foundation upon which the Orange Crush excelled.
Herein lies the problem for Gradishar’s potential of getting elected into the Hall of Fame. The general consensus of the voters is that Gradishar’s stats were padded by the Denver score keepers. An easy assumption to make considering the incredible amount of tackles amassed by Gradishar during his ten year career. Currently, the newly reinvigorated MHR Hall of Fame Committee is scouring old tapes of Gradishar in the hopes of proving or disproving this assumption. The goal, however, is that Gradishar’s stats shouldn’t really matter when considering him for the Hall of Fame.
The point is, how great would the Orange Crush defense have been without Gradishar? Could the Orange Crush have ranked third in fewest rushing yards per game during Gradishar’s tenure as inside linebacker? Behind only the Steelers and Cowboys, two of the best teams from that era. Not only that, the Broncos Orange Crush defense gave up the second fewest yards per rush during that same span. Both of these stats reflect directly upon the job Randy Gradishar had – Stop the inside rushing lane. So pray tell me, who stopped these running backs?
Gradishar was so dominating that he was elected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls, from 1977 until he retired in 1983. He was also NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. Gradishar’s accolades should be more than enough to get him nominated to the Hall of Fame. Yet 27 years have past and nothing. This injustice must be corrected.
Tackle stats set aside, how can NFL history be written without mentioning Randy Gradishar and the Orange Crush defense of the 1970’s? It can’t, yet is. Hopefully we Bronco fans can begin to focus on re-branding Gradishar as one – if not thee – greatest short yardage inside linebacker in NFL history. His leadership and talent helped solidify the third best defense of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He must be given a bust in the hallowed grounds of Canton.