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Forget about 2020. Here's why Randy Gradishar's Hall of Fame wait should have ended 30 years ago

Andrew Mason Avatar
January 14, 2020


(Note: One day after this piece was published, Randy Gradishar was once again passed over for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

I shouldn’t be writing this story right now.

On January 14, 2020, I shouldn’t be making the case for Randy Gradishar to be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That’s because he should have been inducted generations ago.

Thirty-six years and three weeks have passed since the last time Gradishar removed his helmet and shoulder pads as a Denver Bronco. It was Christmas Eve 1983, and the Broncos had just lost at Seattle in the wild-card playoff round, 31-7.

He began his career when the Broncos had just one winning season. He ended it as John Elway’s teammate, and moved into a community-relations position after retirement that made him an employee of Pat Bowlen, then the team’s newly-minted owner.

To this day, he’s still at every home game. Now his role is to make sure players are in line with the league’s byzantine codes regarding uniforms. If a player’s sock isn’t pulled up, if his pants stop short of the knee, if the towel dangling from the waist is too long, Gradishar will tell them.

No detail escapes his eyes now, just like none did during his 10 years as a player. That’s how you amass 2,049 tackles, an absurd total that breaks down to an average of 14.1 per game.

With all respect to John Elway, Floyd Little and the Broncos’ other Hall of Famers, all of whom have been inducted since 2004, Gradishar should have been the first player inducted based upon his accomplishments in Denver.


Consider the iconic defenses of the Super Bowl era. Specifically the ones whose dominance was enough to earn a nickname that echoes through the ages:

  • The Steel Curtain
  • The Doomsday Defense
  • The Purple People Eaters
  • The No-Name Defense

Then add in some of the great defenses that didn’t have a nickname, but are known by their tactics:

  • The 46 (1984-88 Bears)
  • The Tampa Two (1997-2002 Buccaneers)

All of these defenses are represented in the Hall of Fame. All but the No-Name Defense of the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s have multiple inductees.

Two other defenses or defensive units of recent vintage that will join this club are the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” and the Broncos’ “No-Fly Zone.” From those Seahawks, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman appear to have gold jackets in their future. From the Broncos of the mid-2010s, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware can be sized for their jackets, and Aqib Talib could have a compelling case to be alongside them.

So what’s the holdup on the Orange Crush? You could argue that both Gradishar and Louis Wright belong in Canton. But only Gradishar has broken through to be a finalist, twice in 2003 and 2008 as a modern-era nominee, and again this year from the seniors pool.

At this point, you have to start by accomplishing one goal before going on to the next. So start with Gradishar — and keep going.

THE 20-10-7 CLUB

Unfortunately for Gradishar, his 2,049 tackles are not an official NFL statistic. Sacks weren’t official until 1982, his next-to-last season in the NFL, so just 4.5 of his career tally of 19.5 are “official.”

But interceptions are in the books. So are fumble recoveries. Pro Bowl selections, too.

And through research compiled on pro-football-reference.com, this shows that Gradishar is one of 10 linebackers in NFL history with at least 20 interceptions, 10 or more fumble recoveries and a minimum of seven Pro Bowl appearances.

The other nine are Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Jack Lambert, Brian Urlacher, Willie Lanier, Ted Hendricks, Jack Ham, Dick Butkus and “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik.

Eight of them were on the NFL’s 100th-anniversary team. Six of them were first-ballot Hall of Fame choices.

The other three were inducted within two years of going on the ballot for the first time, so none of them had to wait more than eight years after their retirement for their gold jacket.

Gradishar has waited over 36 years — longer than the lifespan of all but 34 active players as of the end of the 2019 regular season.

Ten years was long enough.

Thirty-six is ridiculous.

It’s time for Randy Gradishar, a Buckeye State native and a product of Ohio State, to come home.

To come home to Canton, Ohio.

To come home to the Hall of Fame.

To come home to immortality.


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