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LAS VEGAS — The wait is (finally) over.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday night that Randy Gradishar, 71, will be enshrined in August.
Here’s the entire 2024 class of Pro Football Hall-of-Famers:
- LB Randy Gradishar
- DE Dwight Freeney
- KR Devin Hester
- WR Andre Johnson
- DE Julius Peppers
- LB Patrick Willis
- DT Steve McMichael
Gradishar played 10 seasons with the Broncos from 1974-83. As a middle linebacker, Gradishar was the center of the “Orange Crush” defense that powered the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1977. Although tackles didn’t become an official stat until after Gradishar’s retirement, he unofficially averaged more than 200 tackles per season during his 10-year career and led the Broncos in tackles in every year of his career.
Gradishar was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1978.
Gradishar, an Ohio native, played collegiately at Ohio State. He was an All-American in his junior and senior seasons. In 1973, his final season as a Buckeye, Gradishar finished sixth in Heisman voting. Legendary head coach Woody Hayes called Gradishar “the finest linebacker I ever coached.” Gradishar was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
The Broncos selected Gradishar with the 14th pick in the 1974 NFL Draft, ahead of Hall-of-Famers like Lynn Swann, Dave Casper and Jack Lambert. Lambert joined the Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defense and became somewhat of a rival for Gradishar. Over the course of Gradishar’s career, only Pittsburgh allowed fewer rushing yards per attempt than Denver. Only Pittsburgh and Dallas allowed fewer total rushing yards than Denver in that span.
Gradishar was part of an era of Broncos football that redefined the franchise. Before Gradishar’s arrival in Denver, the Broncos had played 14 total seasons (split between the NFL and the AFL) but they hadn’t made an appearance in the playoffs. They finished last in their division in eight of those seasons.
During Gradishar’s decade in Denver, the Broncos only posted two losing records. They made three consecutive playoff appearances in 1977, 1978 and 1979. By Pro Football Focus’ approximate value rankings, Gradishar was the Broncos’ most valuable player in 1977, when they appeared in their first Super Bowl.
The Broncos returned to the playoffs in 1983, Gradishar’s final season. Rookie quarterback John Elway led the way.
Gradishar was also a Hall of Fame finalist in 2003, 2008 and 2020.