Countdown to Canton: How Hall's Centennial panel got it right with Gradishar

Clark Judge

(The Pro Football Hall of Fame last week announced its 38 finalists for the Centennial Class of 2020. As a prelude to the Hall's choice of 15 inductees, we preview some of the candidates)

One of the surprises to last week’s list of Centennial Class finalists was the inclusion of former Denver linebacker Randy Gradishar.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro, former Defensive Player of the Year (1978) and leader of Denver’s heralded “Orange Crush” defense, Gradishar fell off the Hall-of-Fame radar after failing to reach Canton as a 2008 finalist. That was his second … and last … try as a modern-era finalist, and his candidacy hasn’t been discussed since.

OK, so it happens. But it shouldn't happen to someone of Randy Gradishar's stature. And it won't. The 25-member panel that chooses the Centennial Class made sure of that.

And thank goodness. It’s about time.

A three-down linebacker, Gradishar had such an impact on Denver … and the entire NFL … that Pro Football Weekly personnel scout Joel Buschbaum compared him to Hall-of-Famer Jack Lambert, calling him “maybe the smartest and most underrated. Had rare instincts, was faster than Lambert and very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The fact he is not in the Hall of Fame is a shame and may be attributed to the fact he was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me-type of player.”

In 10 years of play, Gradishar was credited with over 2,000 stops and five-200-tackle seasons, and while I understand those numbers are subjective and possibly inflated, there’s no denying this: Randy Gradishar was the centerpiece of a defense that took Denver to four playoffs, two AFC West titles and one AFC title. In fact, when Pro Football Weekly chose its all-time 3-4 defense, it named Lawrence Taylor, Andre Tippett, Harry Carson and Randy Gradishar to the team.

All but Gradishar are in the Hall.

“It was fun watching game films of Gradishar,” said Hall-of-Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton. “We’d kid Mike Singletary and say, ‘Look at that. Gradishar takes on a block. He doesn’t dance around it, Mike.’

“One time I asked Walter Payton who gave him the hardest shot in his career. He told me one name: Gradishar. He was well respected in Chicago.”

He hasn’t been well respected in Canton. His last year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate was 2009, and he failed to become a finalist. Worse, in the 10 years that followed as a senior candidate he’s seldom mentioned by members of the senior committee. And that doesn’t seem right for someone former defensive coordinator Joe Collier called “the best player I’ve ever seen.”

Collier coached for 32 years.

Apparently, the Hall-of-Fame selection panel heard him. Because Randy Gradishar is one of 20 finalists for 10 senior spots in its Centennial Class of 2020 … and hallelujah. Maybe good things do come to those who wait.

“(Gradishar) is as good as any linebacker I’ve been around,” said Dan Reeves, a former star player with Dallas, head coach for 23 years and Centennial Class finalist. “And I’ve been around some great ones.”

Randy Gradishar was a great one, all right. and don’t ask me how he slipped through the cracks as a modern-era finalist. I don’t know. Nor do I understand how he’s failed to gain traction as a senior candidate. All I do know is that the Pro Football Hall of Fame now has a chance – a once-in-a-lifetime chance – to correct an oversight that should have been addressed years ago.

Here’s hoping it gets it done.

Here's our original "State Your Case" on Gradishar:

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

Comments (8)
No. 1-4
brian wolf
brian wolf

This could be his chance. Unfortunately, there are a lot of 70s/early 80s players on this list, including, Pearson, Branch, Carmichael, Harris, Shell, and stiff competition from 60s linebacker Tommy Nobis.

Can Gradishar, the most decorated linebacker since CHUCK HOWLEY and Baughan, finally get in ?

Clark, if there was ever a class that could celebrate and clear up mistakes at the offensive line position it's this class. We all know lineman are clearly underrepresented, and as many as seven or eight(counting moderns) have a chance to get in. I think five overall would be good, but six could open the door wider for future candidates.

Can the great Winston Hill, whose expectations for protecting a bad knees, superstar like Namath, finally get his due, while being the AFLs only representative ? There are many, who felt he had the grace and ability of a boxer or basketball, even tennis player. Some felt he held too much and got away with it, but no matter what, Namath hardly EVER got sacked, or hit, and Hill deserves some credit.

In life we are told to worry about the things we have and not dwell on the things we don't.

Football fans have this list of candidates for the Centennial Class of 2020. We can't dwell on players that can't or won't make this list. Not all of our favorites get to make it. Let's just enjoy and celebrate the ones, for now, who have an opportunity to finally get in.

bachslunch
bachslunch

Yup — big fan of Randy Gradishar for the HoF. Honors of 5/7/none, plus he gets innovator credit as the first star ILB in a 3-4 defense. Should have been elected long ago.

JeffS76
JeffS76

Agree. I'm glad he made the list and hope he makes it in. It's kind of sickening to think that half of these guys won't make it this year.

Jeff the Mountaineer
Jeff the Mountaineer

If Howley can’t make it I am all in on Randy!!!!


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