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Hall Passes

Mike Olson Avatar
July 14, 2023

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December’s here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?

– Dr. Seuss

A few weeks ago, I took care of a family matter that was years overdue, and had been weighing heavily on my conscience. I knew in my heart that my remaining family was upset with me for the time I’d taken in getting this done, and that I’d really broken my promise to them. Getting it off my plate was such an enormous relief. My the time part done was long overdue, but I could at least call them to apologize, and let them know it was all finally settled.

By the time I’d called the third family member, all three of who said, verbatim:

“Oh. I had assumed you already done that. I wouldn’t have cared if you’d never gotten it done.”

Well, crap. I’d carried that weight around a long time for nothing. Overdue, indeed. So long overdue as to simply have been forgotten. I stopped calling relatives.

Something(s) else long overdue to a point you hope not all end up lost or forgotten are a quartet of names that are precious and powerful to Broncos fans around the world. Randy Gradishar, Alex Gibbs, Dan Reeves, and Mike Shanahan all make their not-first approach to the NFL’s Hall of Fame Committee, with each now passing into the semifinal round yet again, this time for the 2024 Hall of Fame class.

While anyone who alternately bleeds orange and blue is a little biased as to whether or not all four of these gents belongs, the odds of all four finally making the Hall this year seem next to impossible. Here’s why each of their cases seems damned near unimpeachable, even if it takes a few more rounds to catch them all.

Gradishar’s name is tattooed on the heart of any Broncos fan who had a crush on the Orange Crush Defense. While Tom Jackson may have been the mouth of the D, Randy was the heart and soul of a beast that roared with Louis Wright, Steve Foley, and more running a 3-4 that was simply too smart, fast, and attitudinal to be denied. The defense carried the team to their first Super Bowl, an unfortunate loss.

Over the course of a 10 year career played exclusively in Denver, Gradishar was a Defensive Player of the Year, two-time First Team All-Pro, and a seven-time Pro Bowler. Amazingly for anyone who never saw him, and unamazingly for those who cannot forget him, he is still the leading tackler in Broncos history.

In the last 20 years, Gradishar has only been named as a Hall of Fame Finalist four times, with decent-sized breaks between each of those until seeing that designation in both 2020 and last year. Will this be the year Randy finally breaks through, or is he headed towards another year or seven back down the priorities?

If Gibbs or Reeves make it in, it will sadly be posthumously, as both left lasting legacies with the club. Gibbs was one of the primary components and proponents of what has made Shanahan famous, but we’ll get back to Mike in a second. Alex Gibbs as a line coach revolutionized the way the game was played – and the size of a guy it was played by – when he came into the league out of a decade plus coaching college to join Denver in 1984.

With Gibbs, gone were the behemoths that had dominated line play in years prior. Gibbs linemen had to be adept and adaptable. Quick of mind and feet. You often didn’t have to block the monster in front of you, as the play was actually about to take place about seven yards over >>> that way or <<< that way, and by the time Jumbo Defenseman III caught up, the runner was going to be about 11 yards downfield, anyway. Gibbs’ schemes were deception, movement, counterpoint, and ballet. He changed how the game is played, both in terms of schemes, and what actually is and isn’t legal these days. Maybe a guy with that sort of influence finally deserves a space in a Hall of Football Guys Who Are Important.

Reeves also shifted the fortunes of the Broncos and held his own sway in the league, both as a former star quarterback, and also as the guy who helped “create” John Elway… but who also limited him to a point he got himself kicked out of town. While Reeves “only” has two Super Bowl rings on his resume, one as a player, and one as an assistant coach, he appeared in nine championships in his career as a player and coach – third-most in league history. Dan is one of nine coaches ever to win more than 200 games. Even with some of the love-hate relationship a lot of Broncos fans have with Reeves, that all seems pretty Hall-worthy.

And while we may or may not have saved the best for last, it’s somehow even amazingly harder to argue against the Hall of Fame candidacy of Mike Shanahan. Denver’s previous “Coach Mike” oversaw one of the most productive and legacy-building eras of Denver Broncos Football. In his 14 years at the helm, Denver won their first two Super Bowls. They did so in consecutive years, becoming only the seventh team to ever do that, with Shanahan becoming only the sixth coach ever to accomplish the feat.

He is still such a sought-after mind in his field, that it’s been reported that the Broncos recently considered re-hiring him as recently as 2018. His kid still (primarily) runs dad’s offense. Hell, the way that style of offense is run is still named after Shanahan the elder by most folks who write about the game. That all seems influential enough, alongside another dozen or so accolades on top of the gems above, that Mike seems as obvious, if not moreso even, than any of the headslappers above.

Four gems above that each changed the game in their unique way. Four names that seem as if they ought to have been enshrined, already. Will this be the year for all four of them? Good luck with that. Any of them? Will one of the above finally get a pass based on their past? Let’s get a couple of these done before all four names are of a “The late…” variety.

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