RMN: Kreiger: Gradishar Victim of Geography

From Rocky Mountain News...

In the long and colorful history of the old AFL and its successor, the AFC, the San Diego Chargers have won two titles - one AFL, one AFC - and no Super Bowls. Five players and one coach from those teams have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Kansas City Chiefs/Dallas Texans won three AFL titles and one Super Bowl. They have been rewarded with seven Hall of Famers.

Over the same span, the Denver Broncos have won six AFC titles and two Super Bowls. One representative of these teams, John Elway, has been elected to the Hall of Fame.

I could go on. The Detroit Lions comparison is especially entertaining. They've never even seen the inside of a Super Bowl but have three times as many Hall of Famers as the Broncos since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

In other words, the biggest obstacle to former Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar being elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday in his 20th and final year of eligibility has nothing to do with Gradishar. It has to do with an institutional blind spot in the Hall of Fame's board of selectors.

"I certainly have heard that for years," Gradishar said last week. "I don't know who has not heard that. The political issue, the lack of respect, how the process has been set up, you probably know more about that than I do. I know that that's an issue. I know that they've added more people to possibly help in that scenario, but your guess is as good as mine."

Gradishar is not looking to criticize the Hall. He was responding to a question. He is genuinely excited to be a finalist again. Election, he said, would be a great honor. Still, a blind man can see the anomalies in the voting.

More at-large voters have indeed been added to the board of selectors, increasing the total to 44. But only two - Jeff Legwold of the Rocky and Kent Somers of The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic - live in the Mountain time zone, and Arizona didn't have a franchise in the days of the Orange Crush.

Gradishar played 10 seasons, from 1974 through 1983, all for the Broncos. In nine of them, he led the team in tackles, exceeding 200 six times. He never missed a game, playing 145 in a row. He appeared in seven Pro Bowls.

During those 10 seasons, the Broncos surrendered the second-fewest rushing yards in the NFL. The defense carried the 1977 Broncos to the Super Bowl despite a mediocre offense.

"I've never seen a more gifted and talented athlete than Randy Gradishar," said former Broncos coach John Ralston. "He had incredible natural talent. He could have played any position - a great tackler, great range, could intercept the ball, run with the ball. He could do it all. One of the best to ever play the game."

"One of the four best linebackers I've ever seen," said Ralston's successor, Red Miller.

"Randy Gradishar was as good a linebacker as I have ever been around, and I have been around some of the great ones," said Miller's successor, Dan Reeves.

In the past, Hall selectors have expressed skepticism at Gradi- shar's gaudy tackle numbers, suggesting that Broncos coaches inflated them. The fact that the Broncos defense was run by the well-respected Joe Collier during this period does not seem to help. Of course, if Gradishar's tackle numbers were smaller, he would not have enough to merit induction. This is what used to be known as a Catch-22.

Let me point out here that Utah scorekeepers used to give John Stockton an assist if he was anywhere in the building when Karl Malone scored. Trust me, this will not keep Stockton out of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Gradishar faces one more handicap: He played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The selectors love middle linebackers in the 4-3 and playmaking outside linebackers, but they had never anointed an inside backer from a 3-4 until two years ago, when they elected Harry Carson. Carson, of course, played in the nation's media capital.

"Matter of fact, I saw Harry in August up at the Mike Ditka Golf Classic," Gradishar said. "I congratulated him.

"I'm aware, and everybody's aware, of Super Bowls, playing in New York, playing with L.T., Pro Bowls and statistics. From my perspective, Harry's the first inside 3-4 linebacker that has entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so he's broken that ice of maybe leading the way for others who have played that inside position in a 3-4."

They'll have to break a lot of ice this weekend if Gradishar is to get the honor he has long deserved. To appreciate his range and resolve, his omnipresence, his hands, his nose for the ball, you had to see him play. Unfortunately, during his era, there was not much television exposure of the forgotten time zone back east or farther west, where most of the selectors live. This accident of geography is Gradishar's primary hurdle, and always has been.

Saturday, the selectors have one last chance to get it right. I asked Gradishar what it would mean to him.

"I don't allow myself to go there too far," he said. "I kind of wait and see."

Given the history, a wise choice.

Gary Zimmerman, his fellow Broncos finalist, has one big advantage over Gradishar. He spent more than half his career in Minnesota. The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl, but they have seven Hall of Famers.

It shows the total bias that is the "Hall of Fame" when it comes to voting.  Now they are blaming it on geography?  Let's be honest, we all know there is an East Coast bias when it comes to sports and reporting it.  They have a large population and more teams in that region.  That is why seeing two East Coast teams in the Super Bowl makes me sick.  Add in the fact that it's between a New York and a Boston team is worse.  It's bad enough listening to the crap of the Red Sox/Yankees in baseball for 6 months, now it's all of the hype all this week and hearing the fans of the winner be obnoxius until the start of the 2008 regular season.

Anyway to the Hall of Shame (Fame), only one Bronco (Elway) in the entire existence of the franchise is in the HOF.  This is not only geographical bias, this practically outright hatred of the franchise by these low life writers.  There should at least be 2 more Broncos in the HOF (HOS).  Gradishar and Zimmerman both deserve to be there.  As I have said in the past, the Broncos Ring of Fame has more clout that the Hall of Shame.  I do certainly hope that these fine men get in and Saturday is the latest they have to wait.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR.