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One Broncos’ fan is on a mission to get Gradishar in the Hall of Fame

You’ve seen Ron Katz in his Gradishar jersey, dressed in orange from head to toe at games, training camp and NFL events all over the country, beating the drum for No. 53.

Today the Denver Broncos officially have another player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

And although Demarcus Ware isn’t only our player to claim - as he was a Dallas Cowboy for nine seasons before playing three in Denver - he was a key game wrecker in the pass rush during the Super Bowl 50 championship season, so we know he considers the Broncos as much a home team as the Cowboys.

But that should turn us to a particular linebacker who was always and only a Bronco - and a should-be Hall-of-Famer who played in an era where guys didn’t change teams, sit out for contract disputes or even take time off for injury (even when they should have).

NFL fans know him as a member of the Orange Crush.

His pro football peers know him as one of the scariest guys on the field.

Broncos Country knows him as perhaps the most underrated player in NFL history (and we’re sure he’s the most underappreciated by the Hall of Fame).

And Broncos fans got some good news last week that Gradishar made the cut from 60 candidates to 12 by the Seniors Committee for the 2024 Hall of Fame Class. And we are hoping for even better news Aug. 22 when the committee whittles the number down to three.

It will be long past due, but it will still be worthy.

Because even though the Hall of Fame doesn’t really deserve Gradishar at this point, Gradishar deserves the Hall of Fame.

And there is one particular Broncos fan who has made it his mission the past few years to ensure the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting members do not forget their duty to Gradishar.

Ron Katz - decked out at multiple annual NFL events in his signature orange shorts, orange socks, orange 53 jersey and orange and blue Dr. Seuss hat - has been a very vocal and visible advocate for our favorite GOAT linebacker. Showing up at Super Bowl weeks, the NFL Draft, the NFL Combine and this week at the HOF enshrinement ceremony, Katz is once again making the committee aware of which player absolutely needs to be put in the next class.

Katz, a longtime season ticketholder but a fan of Gradishar’s ever since the former Ohio State Buckeye was drafted by the Broncos in 1968, has been working both behind the scenes and in front to raise awareness for a player beyond deserving of Hall of Fame recognition.

You know the important Gradishar stats, but let’s recap:

Gradishar, an Ohio State standout who rightfully was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998, was taken 14th overall in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Broncos and never missed a game.

Famed Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes called Gradishar “the best linebacker I ever coached” and Pro Football Weekly personnel scout Joel Buchsbaum said the linebacker was “maybe the smartest and most underrated. Had rare instincts, was faster than [Hall of Fame Steelers linebacker Jack] Lambert, and very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations.”

In just his second year in the pros, No. 53 had 132 total tackles, three sacks, intercepted three passes and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

Katz points out that in an era where Pro Bowl inclusion meant something and was voted on by peers, Gradishar was named to the game seven out of nine starter years. He was also named All Pro eight of his nine starter years.

And as the only Bronco to ever be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Gradishar actually received votes for that award four times (winning it in 1978).

That’s not for hacks.

If the mean and nasty Lyle Alzado was the “heart” of the Orange Crush, Gradishar was its “soul.”

The linebacker has previously been a Hall of Fame candidate four times - 2003, 2008, 2020 and last year in 2022. Both in 2020 and 2022 Gradishar made it to the final round before being passed over.

Jim Saccomano, former head of Broncos PR and himself inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, spoke to the Quarterback Club in 2022, highlighting exactly what we all know.

“Of the guys with 7 Pro Bowls, Randy’s one. Of the guys with 20 interceptions, Randy’s one. 10 fumbles recovered, Randy’s one. Plus he was Defensive Player of the Year in 1978,” Saccmano pointed out. “Six went into [the HOF], either as first-ballot guys or second or third. Randy is the same as they are. So tell me why he’s not in?”

As Katz will tell you, it’s very frustrating to watch Gradishar get passed over so many times, not to even mention the fact that it took 20 years after he first became eligible in 1988 for the HOF committee to even put his name in the running.

But as Katz will also remind you, he doesn’t believe it’s a conspiracy against Gradishar as much as it’s just a matter of having so many great players to get in and not enough consistency year to year in the voting members.

“We are getting there,” says Katz. “I’m very, very hopeful this is the year. We will get him in.”

You can see the full interview (with Gradishar highlights) on this week’s Round Up.