When the name Randy Gradishar is mentioned, the response speaks to the problems with the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The words one should hear is, “Hall of Fame linebacker.” Or, “One of the best to ever play the game.” Instead the response is disbelief. There’s just no way a player that good could have played for the Denver Broncos. So the 2,000 tackles Gradishar racked up in his career are fudged. They aren’t real. Because, remember, there’s just no way a guy that good could have played in a “cow town” like Denver.
“Well, there’s nothing to set straight,” the former head of Broncos public relations for 36 years and current team consultant/historian Jim Saccomano told me last summer. “A lot of people love to act like they know everything. Tackle statistics are not official in the NFL. But forever people have said you’re better off taking them from the coaches than press box figures because in every press box there’s a visiting team. And the statisticians are busy doing a lot of things. You’re not quite sure how the tackles are going to come out. But taking them from film study, because you watched the video and you see this man made the tackle. So we always got them from our coaches. I got them from Joe Collier (Broncos defensive coordinator at the time), who is in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Randy made them, Joe counted them, and then I published them. And some writers have suggested that they were padded. Well, that’s of course nonsensical. It’s not true. It doesn’t mean they’re lying, it just means they don’t know any better. Like when a little child says, ‘You hate me.’ Either Randy wasn’t making them, Joe was falsifying them, or I was falsifying them.
“Tom Jackson put it best. Now people can say, ‘I don’t respect Tom Jackson. He’s an idiot and liar.’ That’s great. Good for you. But Tom Jackson said the problem is Randy really was that good. He was great.”
To put it in even simpler terms: You cannot write the story of the NFL without Gradishar. That’s the only criteria that matters when you consider a player’s or contributor’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. It was true for Terrell Davis. It’s true for Pat Bowlen. It’s true for one of the greatest linebackers to ever step foot on the field. The fact Gradishar does not have a bust in Canton, Ohio is a shame and sham. When the Seniors Committee meets on Friday to move a nominee to the full selection committee for vote on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, that player must be Gradishar. The five voters who will make that determination, according to the Hall of Fame, are: Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin, Jeff Legwold, Ira Miller, and Dan Pompei.
“You’ll find people who will wink at you and say ‘well, that’s not really the way it is.’ Well, actually that is the way it is and was,” Saccomano told me. “I didn’t sit there and wait outside Joe’s office for an hour and half every Monday … I had other things I could have done. I could have really been doing other things. And he had other things he could have done too besides going over the video over and over and over and over again.”
Aside from the 2,000 tackles (which some say is 400 more than any other player in NFL history), the interceptions, the stuffs on third-and fourth-and-ones, being the leader for one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, here are the numbers that make Gradishar a Hall-of-Famer. The 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Gradishar is one-of-five defensive players to earn at least seven Pro Bowls from ‘74-83. The other four are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Jack Lambert, Robert Brazile, Jack Ham, Randy White). That’s why you often hear Broncos fans say, “If Gradishar played in (enter city), he would already be in the Hall of Fame.”
“There’s an unintentional, I’m not going to call it a bias because as it happens every franchise has one vote. Or one media member has one vote,” Saccomano said. “There are 11 votes west of the Mississippi, and all the rest are east of the Mississippi. So generally speaking that means if there’s a really top player in Seattle he starts with the Seattle person speaking for him. But you couldn’t watch a guy in Seattle without flying there. But if someone is playing in Pittsburgh, there’s eight franchises, and people don’t realize this, they drive to the games. It makes a difference when you start the discussion with seven votes in the bag as opposed to one vote in the bag. And the first one to 75 percent wins.”
Senior Committee of the @ProFootballHOF to meet this week with former Broncos LB Randy Gradishar among the candidates.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) August 13, 2018
The '78 NFL Def. POY, Gradishar is 1-of-5 defensive players to earn 7+ Pro Bowls from '74-83. The other 4 are in the PFHOF (Lambert, Brazile, Ham, White). pic.twitter.com/jEYxYw7o07
The time has come to right one of the most absurd wrongs in NFL and pro football history. The time has come to put one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When the name “Randy Gradishar” is mentioned, the time has come to end the disbelief that one of the greats really was that good and did it in Denver.
“Woody Hayes said he was the best football player he ever coached,” Saccomano said. “And at one point, for a 10-year period, I don’t know if this is still the case, the Football Encyclopedia had the 250 best players to ever play the game, and Randy Gradishar was perennially listed as one of the 250 best players to ever play the game.
“I have no question about it. No doubt about it.”
Added Hall of Fame defensive lineman and broadcaster Merlin Olsen, who once said: “If you ask me to name the five best linebackers I played against or had a chance to cover in my broadcasting career, Randy Gradishar would be on that list. He was the kind of player that I would have loved to have as a teammate. There is no question about credentials here; Randy Gradishar belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
Since we can’t do enough to make this happen for Gradidshar, here’s one more, courtesy of Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent:
“Randy Gradishar absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I’m surprised he is not in already … His play was characterized by intensity and intelligence. No one played harder or smarter than Randy. He had the proverbial ‘nose for the football.’ His size, speed, intelligence, and work habits separated him from the other players at his position, and on short yardage, his ability to anticipate the hole and beat the ball carrier to it were the best in football.”