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Randy Gradishar: HOF Credentials

It's tough to say why some guys get left out of the HOF talk. Is it some sort of bias, or perhaps ignorance about a players' body of work that keeps them from becoming enshrined? I was born in 1984 and admittedly didn't know a lot about Randy Gradishar. After doing some research and looking at his body of work, Mr. Gradishar absolutely deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I have proof to back up that claim.

There have been a few interesting developments this offseason, both have to do with the retirement of players who played LB who figure to be shoe-ins for the HOF. Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis in all likelihood only have to wait the mandatory 5-year waiting period before they are enshrined in Canton. In the modern era, they are the prototypical 3-down inside linebackers that are fast becoming a dying breed. Going back a little bit, no one questions the dominance of Mike Singletary while with the Chicago Bears. These three players are the standard we will use--does Randy Gradishar belong in the Hall of Fame?. What sets a HOF player apart from the good players that have played is their dominance over the game during their career. All four of these players exhibited this trait consistently throughout their respective storied careers.

Numbers Game

For a player like Gradishar, stats weren't something that were kept on the defensive side of the ball. If you try to do a statistical analysis and find his numbers someplace like or even Pro Football Reference, you find a lot of blanks. So how did I find the numbers I present? They are numbers that are listed and mentioned a variety of different places by several different sources including an article from Kyle Montgomery at Bronco Talk.


Randy Gradishar

Mike Singletary

Brian Urlacher

Ray Lewis































Fumble Rec.




















Pro Bowls





All Pro






DPOY 1978

DPOY 1985, 1988

DPOY 2005

DPOY 2000, 2003

Only Ray Lewis has more aggregate tackles, even then he played 7 more seasons to be able to edge Randy out by a meager 12 tackles. When we look at each players' averages per game, the comparison is not even close. Randy averaged 5 more tackles per game than his closest competitor.

I will take the argument one step further and state that if he isn't in the hall, Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis don't deserve to be enshrined either. We know that it is an idiotic statement though, both those players are deserving of the highest honor--and so is Randy Gradishar. -Bronco Mike

Moving on to career Interceptions, Randy joins both Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis in the 20 INT club. In fact when we once again vet out the averages, he ties Ray Lewis in Interception frequency.

When it comes to fumble recoveries, Gradishar's numbers compare favorably with Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher. He is outproduced by Ray Lewis, but remember that Ray Lewis played 83 more games than Randy did. When you even the playing field with an average or frequency number, Randy Gradishar and Ray Lewis are identical.

Sacks is a bit of a mystery as they only started being tracked in 1982. I saw two other sources that listed Gradishar's production at 20.5 career stats and we will go with that number. Both Urlacher and Lewis outpace Randy in this area, the Randy also beats Mike Singletary in overall frequency.

Each player was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year at least once with Ray Lewis and Mike Singletary being awarded that honor twice.

Pro Bowl and All Pro











Pro Bowl %





All Pro %





Randy's Pro Bowl and All Pro percentages matchup favorably with the other three players being used in this comparison. There is absolutely no evidence that shows he failed to perform at an elite level throughout the duration of his career.

Now that you have the evidence in front of you, you should arrive at the same conclusion I did: Randy Gradishar is a HOF'er. I will take the argument one step further and state that if he isn't in the hall, Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis don't deserve to be enshrined either. We know that it is an idiotic statement though, both those players are deserving of the highest honor--and so is Randy Gradishar. More than numbers though, let's look at what others have to say:

Via an article by Mike Beacom from Pro Football Weekly:

Still, I can't help but wonder what reasons voters have for why they have yet to elect former Broncos LB Randy Gradishar. Seems no matter who you talk to from Gradishar's era, everyone thinks the guy belongs in Canton.

  • Said Steve Largent, "Randy Gradishar absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I'm surprised he is not in already."
  • "Without fanfare, he was the model of Hall of Fame efficiency in the middle of that great Denver 'Orange Crush' defense. His play was overshadowed only by his class," said ESPN's Chris Berman.
  • "Randy was a great linebacker, and he certainly belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said coach Chuck Knox. "He was tough, smart, and played every down all out."

And not only do opposing coaches and players, commentators and game historians think Gradishar is worthy - many of them think he is one of the greatest inside linebackers of all-time.

Gradishar shouldn't have to pray for it. He earned it by averaging 205 tackles over his 10 NFL seasons, seven of which placed him on the AFC's Pro Bowl roster. Those totals stack up well against the 19 linebackers currently in the Hall, and it could be argued that you could swap out Gradishar for a number of them. So why has he been ignored? Let me suggest two common (though rotten) factors that Hall voters usually consider when sifting through candidates: Gradishar never played on a Super Bowl winner, and his on-field personality lacked pizzazz.

Wrote the late Pro Football Weekly personnel analyst Joel Buchsbaum of Gradishar in 2002, "Maybe the smartest and most underrated ever. Had rare instincts, was faster than Lambert and very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The fact he is not in the Hall of Fame is a shame and may be attributed to the fact he was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me type of player."

You know another HOF'er that never won a Super Bowl? Dan Marino. That is the most memorable example, but the hall is littered with players who never won a championship. This is not a good enough argument against a player. This is a team game after all and the HOF is an individual honor.

Here's another account from Rob Kluttz who penned this article for the now defunct Rocky Mountain News (via

I could sit here and recount Gradishar's statistics and compare them to those of the linebackers already enshrined in Canton. The seven Pro Bowls, one Defensive Player of the Year and countless team records are comparable to Nick Buoniconti, Ted Hendricks and Jack Ham.Gradishar never missed a single game and played at a Pro Bowl level until the day he retired. While not having the advantage of being surrounded by other Hall of Fame caliber teammates, he finished a career equal to any.

But it's more than just the 2,049 tackles or 33 turnovers. Randy Gradishar was the heart and soul of the original Orange Crush defense. He was the centerpiece of Joe Collier's 3-4 and the glue that held a ragtag bunch of degenerates and hand-me-downs (I mean that in a good way) together.

So fractured were the Broncos in the run-up to Super Bowl XII, Denver head coach Red Miller appointed Gradishar as the team's official "B---- Coach." It was his job to handle the complaints of Lyle Alzado, Rubin Carter and the Dirty Dozen, a group of 12 Broncos that led a mutiny the previous year resulting in the ouster of coach John Ralston. Gradishar was the cornerstone of a defense that yielded just 27 points to the Cowboys despite an offense that turned the ball over seven times in the first half alone, five of them inside Dallas field-goal range.

Perhaps Randy retired too early. Maybe a few more seasons and pro bowls would have padded his stat line just enough to sway the voters in charge. Randy Gradishar, however, believed it was the right time:

I retired on my own terms. I wanted to cal the shots. I wanted to make my own decision and retire at the peak of my career instead of losing my step and having someone tell me it was time.

I talked to a lot of people and I had been praying about the decision.

I guess that's kind of a broad answer, but I wanted to make that decision on my own. Maybe if I played a few years more I could have been with Karl (Mecklenburg) and John (Elway) for that next Super Bowl (following the 1986 season). But I don't know if playing a few more years would qualify me or give me Hall of Fame credentials. And when I retired, I wasn't even thinking about the Hall of Fame.

But I have never looked back. That's a common question I get, but I was at peace with the decision. I felt great about it and felt that it was a blessing for me to leave the game at my peak and according to my own personal philosophy. I asked The Lord to help direct me and I prayed about it and I had great confirmation about my decision.

If you're still not convinced that Randy deserves the HOF, I suggest you visit this page and read all the praise given to him by former teammates, contemporaries, and football historians. Here are just a few of the things they had to say about him:

Steve Sabol, NFL Films

"Randy Gradishar was selected All-NFL or All-AFC for seven straight years and was the leader of one of the NFL's best defenses in the late ‘70's. His range separated him from others at his position, A sure and determined tackler, he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation, and athletic ability, and his play anticipation was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact, which made him an incredible performer on third or fourth and short."

QB Joe Theismann

"When I think of Hall of Fame athletes, Randy Gradishar fits that mold. Linebackers are the heart and soul of every defense. For years, teams have tried to find the prototype linebacker, like Lawrence Taylor. And yet, Randy Gradishar was the same type of prototype linebacker. The Orange Crush defense carried the Denver Broncos to great records and their first Super Bowl. And the heart and soul of that great defense was the seven-time Pro Bowler, Randy Grandishar."

DE Jack Youngblood

"Randy Gradishar accomplished Hall of Fame quality of play with consistent performance, leadership, and character. Randy was the kind of player I wanted on my teams. Physically talented, dependable, always prepared, and determined to do what it takes to win the football game. Randy was a players' player; when you took the field you could depend on Randy to get his job done and then do the extra to help you win the football game. He was a leader by demonstration in all aspects of the game. With his physical abilities a given, his warrior attitude made him the one to follow on the football field."

Randy Gradishar is a Hall of Fame player, without a doubt. It is an absolute travesty that the HOF committee has failed to adequately do their homework when considering this candidate. The production, longevity, and impact are all there in black and white for everyone to see.

For those of us too young to have been able to watch him play, I found a few highlights that I believe sum up the kind of player Randy was--those that got to see him play are very fortunate. Enjoy!