It’s possible the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 could be a couple Broncos richer by next February.
Not likely, but it is possible.
And at the center of that hopeful proposition is none other than Randy Gradishar, Denver’s All-Pro inside linebacker and anchor of the famed Orange Crush defense of the 70s and 80s under Joe Collier.
Gradishar, a monster tackler and best there was at finding the ball carrier in the trenches, earned Defensive Player of the Year in 1978.
The two-time, first team All Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler has been a finalist three times, most recently in 2020 for the HOF Centennial Slate. But each time has been snubbed as voting reporters apparently haven’t understood greatness.
Collier did, however.
“Every year that he played, he led our team in tackles,” the former defensive coordinator said in 2020. “He was good. He was very good. He was a linchpin of our 3-4 defense. The fact that we were so good on short-yardage and goal-line defense was Randy. Randy was probably the best short-yardage, goal-line type of middle linebacker in the history of the NFL, really.”
The two winningest coaches in franchise history - Mike Shanahan (146) and Dan Reeves (117) - also made the list of semi-finalists for the Contributors’ category.
Leading the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances - plus back-to-back victories in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII under Shanahan’s reign - the coaches turned Denver into a winning juggernaut.
Reeves joined the Broncos as head coach in 1981 and is largely responsible for the development of John Elway, Denver’s most decorated quarterback and recent GM. The Broncos made the playoffs seven times under Reeves, winning three AFC Championships and appearing in three Super Bowls. Reeves earned NFL Coach of the Year in 1993 and 1998.
Although Elway’s souring relationship with his coach ultimately led to the end of Reeves’ career in Denver, the quarterback heaped praise on his former coach.
“With Dan, you knew you were going to be in every game,” Elway said in January. “You always had a chance with him on your sideline. As the head coach, Dan was tough but fair. I respected him for that. We may not have always seen eye to eye, but the bottom line is we won a lot of games together. Looking back, what I appreciate about Dan is how he gradually brought me along to help me reach my potential.”
But it was Shanahan who showed Elway and the Broncos what their full potential could mean - championships.
The Broncos had a remarkable 61.6% average win percentage during Shanahan’s tenure, leading the team to its first Lombardi Trophy in 1998 against the Packers and second in 1999 with a victory over the Falcons.
Shanahan’s legacy lives on throughout the NFL as his offensive creativity with the West Coast zone blocking scheme has spread across the league - including with his son Kyle Shanahan at the 49ers and with Sean McVay at the LA Rams.
The Hall of Fame will announce on July 27 which of the 12 seniors and 12 coaches/contributors will be selected as finalists.
The Seniors Committee on Aug. 16 will then choose three players from that finalists group to be considered for the Class of 2023. The Coach/Contributor Committee will choose one finalist to be considered for the Hall of Fame.
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