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Countdown to Canton: Broncos Who Belong in Hall of Fame: Randy Gradishar | No. 1

It's time to shine a light on the careers of those former Broncos who deserve Hall-of-Fame recognition.
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The fact that Denver Broncos legendary linebacker Randy Gradishar still awaits enshrinement into the Hall of Fame is arguably the most glaring and egregious omission since the doors were opened to Canton.

Gradishar is one of the best inside linebackers to ever don an NFL jersey. Don’t believe me? Believe highly respected NFL players and coaches. 

Here are some notable quotes about Gradishar:

Joe Collier: “The best player I’ve ever coached.”

Dan Reeves: “As good a linebacker as I’ve ever been around — and I’ve been around some great ones.”

Chuck Knox: "Randy was a great linebacker, and he certainly belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was tough, smart, and played every down all out."

Steve Largent: "Randy Gradishar absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I'm surprised he is not in already.”

The Case for Gradishar

Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar (53) on the field against the San Diego Chargers at at Mile High Stadium.

Gradishar left the game after only 10 seasons, choosing to leave while he was still playing at an elite level (maybe the voters are punishing him for leaving so soon and depriving the NFL world of a few more years of stellar football). In those 10 seasons, he went to the Pro Bowl seven times and was selected as an All-Pro five times.

For his work in his final season, he was selected to the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro. This level of excellence is on par with other Hall-of-Fame linebackers from the same era (Robert Brazile 10 seasons/7 Pro Bowls, Jack Ham 12 seasons/8 Pro Bowls, Ted Hendricks 15 seasons/8 Pro Bowls, Jack Lambert 11 seasons/9 Pro Bowls).

Seven Pro Bowls are the most by any inside linebacker who is not in Canton. This greatness deserves recognition. In 1977. Gradishar was also voted the Defensive Player of the Year. Only two players who won this award in the 1970s are not in the Hall. 

Gradishar is one of them. Every player who won the Defensive Player of the Year in the 1970s or 1980s, been to the Pro Bowl at least five times, and has at least two first-team All-Pro selections are in the Hall of Fame, except Gradishar.

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Gradishar was the best player on one of the most historic defenses of all time — Denver's 1978 unit. He was the heart and soul of the famed Orange Crush defense and led that vaunted unit to a Super Bowl appearance.

Gradishar was an intelligent, all-around linebacker. He could play the pass as well as the run and is considered the game’s best short-yardage linebacker of all time.

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Another notable quote.

Steve Sabol: "Randy Gradishar was the leader of one of the NFL's best defenses in the late ‘70's. His range separated him from others at his position. A sure and determined tackler, he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation, and athletic ability, and his play anticipation was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact, which made him an incredible performer on third or fourth and short."

For his career, Gradishar made 2,049 tackles, 20 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), recovered 13 fumbles, and 4.5 'official' sacks. Tackles were not an official statistic and were recorded by the team back then, so it could be argued that some of those were embellished.

For sake of argument, let’s say 25 percent of them were added on; that still equates to more than 1,500 tackles for an average greater than 150 per season. That bests Ray Lewis’ average by a significant margin, and he was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

It's a shame that I have to point out that Gradishar is equally as good or better than other players who are in the Hall of Fame. It almost diminishes his merits. He deserves to be immortalized without a pity presentation along with the other greats of the game, and it should have happened a long time ago.

Gradisher's bronze bust is long overdue. To contemplate that he is now in the senior pool is mind-boggling to say the least. It is time for the Hall of Fame to rectify this error and vote Gradishar to the hallowed halls of Canton.

Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.

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