(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:
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