BRONCOS

Is this the time that Randy Gradishar’s long Hall of Fame wait finally ends?

Aug 12, 2022, 1:11 PM | Updated: Aug 17, 2022, 9:18 am

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This time, Randy Gradishar thinks things might be different for his Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy.

A modern-era finalist in 2008, Gradishar’s wait for the ultimate football honor has continued for the past 13 years. The Hall even bypassed him for its special Centennial Class of 2020, when it inducted 10 seniors candidates.

But that didn’t ease the backlog much. And that is why — for the next three years — up to three seniors per class will be inducted.

Gradishar is one of a dozen finalists. From that group, ithree seniors will be nominated for 2023 induction by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s seniors committee.

And being one of the senior nominees typically means induction. Since 2010, 18 of 19 senior nominees — not including the 2020 Centennial Class — sailed to induction by the wider selection committee.

“This is the first year in a long time that I’ve felt there’s a real possibility of getting into the Hall of Fame,” Gradishar said after watching the Broncos final 2022 training-camp practice Thursday.

Why now?

“Just an internal feeling,” he said. “You go through it — I think it’s been 30-some years — and it kind of wears off after a while.

“… I looked at some of those names, and some of those names, I can remember. So, it’ll be exciting to see how it’s all going to turn out.”

The other finalists are Ken Anderson, Maxie Baughan, Chuck Howley, Cecil Isbell, Joe Klecko, Bob Kuechenberg, Eddie Meadow, Tommy Nobis, Ken Riley, Sterling Sharpe and Everson Walls.

Among the 12 finalists, only Gradishar, Isbell and Nobis were also finalists for the 2020 Centennial Class. This could prove significant, since the two subsequent senior nominees — Drew Pearson (2021) and Cliff Branch (2022) — were also among the finalists who did not get the call in 2020.

Logically, Gradishar, Isbell and Nobis could be considered the first in line.

But the Orange Crush stalwart isn’t worried about it.

“I believe it’s all in God’s timing,” he said. “Whether I get in or don’t get in is not going to change my life. Those honors come as an honor. So, I just kind of keep waiting and depend on people to see what my statistics are for when I played. I’ve heard what I call a lot of excuses over the years. That’s my own personal feeling about that.

“When I look at my statistics compared to the statistics of guys that are already in there, mine are little bit better.”

The prodigious tackle total of 2,049 jumps out. But tackles were — and still are not — an unofficial statistic.

However, when going by official metrics, Gradishar is one of 10 linebackers in NFL history with at least 20 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries and seven Pro Bowl appearances.

The others are Chuck Bednarik, Dick Butkus, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt and Brian Urlacher. Not only are all of them Hall of Famers … but none of them had to wait more than nine years after retirement for induction.

Gradishar’s wait will hit 39 years on Christmas Eve.

“Statistics say something. A 12-2 record (in 1977) says something,” Gradishar said. “I don’t know what else to call them besides excuses, but we beat the Steel Curtain in our first divisional playoff game back in 1977.”

Of course, the Broncos didn’t win the Super Bowl that year. But they claimed the AFC with playoff wins over Pittsburgh and the Raiders. Those clubs won six of seven world championships from 1974-80. Only a turnover-strewn day by the Broncos’ offense in Super Bowl XII prevented them from a Lombardi Trophy of their own.

Winning that day probably would have changed Gradishar’s Hall-of-Fame arc. That said, he and the defense did its part in the 27-10 loss. Gradishar had eight total tackles and broke up a pass. Further, the Orange Crush defense sacked Roger Staubach five times, broke up nine passes and forced four fumbles. (Dallas also fumbled twice on special teams.)

But that all part of the cruel calculus.

Gradishar’s Broncos lost their lone Super Bowl appearance. Harry Carson’s Giants won theirs. And in a bit of dramatic irony, Carson’s win came at the expense of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.

No one would say that Carson does not deserve the honor he received in 2006. But the only major differences are career length — Carson played 13 seasons, Gradishar 10 — and the fact that Carson’s Giants got an all-time performance from Phil Simms in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, nine years earlier, Dallas’ Doomsday Defense poured through Denver’s pass protection, battered the already-hurting Craig Morton, and that was that.

Gradishar made the Pro Bowl in 70 percent of his seasons — seven of 10. Carson made it 69 percent of the time — nine of 13 years. Both were two-time first-team All-Pros. Both were stalwart 3-4 inside linebackers.

“People keep telling me, ‘If you played anywhere on the East Coast, you’d have already been in,'” Gradishar said.

He regards that as an excuse.

It is. A flimsy one at that.

But perhaps the excuses are now about to be replaced by a gold jacket, a bronze bust and the immortality the heart of the Orange Crush deserves.

***

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