Guest columnist: Why 20-10-7 should mean a Gold Jacket for Randy Gradishar

Clark Judge

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs in with thoughts on the NFL – past, present or future. Today it’s the Denver Broncos’ former VP of communications and current historian, Jim Saccomano, making the Hall-of-Fame case for Broncos’ linebacker Randy Gradishar … with an assist from Andrew Mason, who once worked with the Broncos’ website. Mason is credited with the research for Saccomano’s 20-10-7 argument).

Despite a stellar record that should have placed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame years (decades?) ago, former Denver linebacker Randy Gradishar remains on the outside of the Canton Hall ... but looking in strongly.

Gradishar played for the Broncos from 1974, as a number-one draft choice out of Ohio State, through the 1983 season and was credited with 2,049 total tackles, including assists – with each one meticulously calculated by longtime Broncos’ defensive coordinator Joe Collier.

“Randy was unbelievable,” Collier said. “Some people have tried to say those tackle stats were padded, but I can assure you they were not. I personally watched every inch of film over and over; I kept those stats myself, and they were legit.”

Former ESPN National Football League commentator Tom Jackson, who played next to Gradishar for nine seasons in Denver, added that “the problem a lot of people fail to understand is that Randy actually was that good. He was THAT good.”

Of course, tackles are not an official NFL statistic. And just 4.5 of his 19.5 career sacks are “official,” since that category did not become official until 1982, Gradishar’s next-to-last season.

But let’s take a comparative look at facts that are in all the books, the trio of interceptions, fumble recoveries and Pro Bowl selections. Through research compiled on pro-football-reference.com, Gradishar is one of 10 linebackers in NFL history with at least 20 interceptions (he had exactly 20), 10 or more fumble recoveries (he had 13) and a minimum of seven Pro Bowl appearances.

The other nine are Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Jack Lambert, Brian Urlacher, Willie Lanier, Ted Hendricks, Jack Ham, Dick Butkus, and Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik.

Eight of those linebackers were on the NFL’s 100 anniversary team. Six of them were first-ballot Hall-of-Fame choices. The others were inducted within two years of going on the ballot for the first time. So none of them had to wait more than eight years after retirements for a gold jacket.

Gradishar has waited over 36 years, or longer than the lifespan of all but 34 active players at the end of the 2019 regular season.

In addition to his seven Pro Bowls, Gradishar was a six-time All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year and the ringleader of Denver’s fabled “Orange Crush” defense, which led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl in 1977.

“In my 30-plus years of coaching,” said Collier, “he was as good as the best. He had an amazing ability to see blockers without taking his eye off the runner. Randy had an uncanny ability to stay on his feet and not get knocked down. Seriously, it was like he had ‘radar’ like a bat. He was a great leader as well.”

Longtime Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, “Gradishar was the best short-yardage defender in football. He must have made tackles for no gain on third-or-fourth-and-one a hundred times,”

Collier seconded that, noting that “Randy was the best in the league in short yardage. Ask any coach of that era, and they will say Gradishar was by far the best short-yardage linebacker.”

Opinions supporting Gradishar for the Hall of Fame are plentiful, but one keeps coming back to that 20-10-7 club. All of those stats are recorded, and they are real. Plus, those nine other linebackers in the club all went into the Hall of Fame within as soon as -- or quickly after -- gaining eligibility.

Gradishar had the same statistics as they did, so he, too, should be in. Here’s hoping Hall-of-Fame voters take a look at the 20-10-7 Club and call Gradishar’s name soon.

Comments (15)
No. 1-5
WMcCoy
WMcCoy

Great article as usual...and yes Gradishar should have been in HOF years ago...I'm hoping that he & others that missed out on the centennial class get high priority in future years,along with some AFL stars.

brian wolf
brian wolf

The biggest question is, why hasnt Gradishar made the HOF ?

Padded statistics or not, has he not gotten enough accolades, postseason appearances, testimonials and longetivity to not make the Hall ?

Some may say he doesnt have a SB or didnt play long enough but their wrong.

Brian Urlacher has great athleticism but was constantly blocked in the run game but he gets voted in over a tackling machine like Gradishar ?

To be honest, Gradishar represents a problem HOF voters have had in the past with the Denver Broncos ...

Think about it, the Gradishar Broncos went to the postseason three consecutive years between 77 and 79 and should have also went in 80 and 81 but their offence was pedestrian, including its terrible performance in the 77/78 SB.

Despite that great defence, which continued with different players in the Elway era, no one has made the HOF, with deserving candidates in Gradishar, Wright, Alzado and Thompson. Ironically, the Broncos only HOF player from the 70s -- Floyd Little, is a very controversial choice. Odoms at TE, has a case as well.

Then there is the John Elway 80s Broncos ... from 1986 - 1991 the Broncos went to four AFC Championship games and three Super Bowls ... In these games, their record is 3-4

In contrast, the Buffalo Bills from 1988 - 1993 went to five AFC Championship games and four consecutive SBs ... their record is 4-5

Despite just two extra championship games, the Bills have SEVEN HOF members while the Broncos have -- One !

Elway of course, with Mecklenburg, Reeves, Smith and Wright - again- also deserving.

Why seven for Buffalo and only one for Denver ? Both teams got bashed by NFC teams, but obviously, Denver was overlooked by voters until recently.

Its time for Gradishar and either Tyrer, Wistert, Howley or Pearson, to get voted in in the next two years for seniors ...

8 Replies

TUG7707
TUG7707

Absolutely correct. Another one that burns me is why Jimmie Johnson and Bill Cowher made the HOF before Shanahan. It is the Hall of Popular not the Hall of Fame.

brian wolf
brian wolf

Not only Shanahan, who coached on what, SIX SB teams, that went 3-3 including the 49ers but center Nalen, who anchored a dominant running attack.

The mistake Shanahan made was switching QB Plummer for Cutler though Cutler played his best football in Denver before having diabetes problems.

Neil Smith, Trevor Pryce, Rod Smith, and Clinton Portis have cases as well.

WMcCoy
WMcCoy

Unfortunately the way Cowher & Johnson got in seemed to be more about the tv moment...not saying they don't deserve it, but i thought Buddy Parker & Tom Flores should have gone in this time.

JeffS76
JeffS76

I agree that the way Cowher and Johnson were approached just seemed made-for-TV and rather cheesy. Didn't like it at all. I don't think they're terrible selections - Cowher was a little surprising but he still has a good case, and Johnson had a really brief career but I still expected him to make it some day. If it had been up to me, I'd have taken Coryell and Holmgren (Kind of shocked they didn't choose Coryell - he'll just continue to take up an annual spot in the final 15 every year).

WMcCoy
WMcCoy

I think what hurts Coryell is the fact his teams never advanced far in playoffs...I could be wrong, but I believe every HOF coach has at least made it to a championship game, either AAFC,AFL,NFL or SB

brian wolf
brian wolf

Youre right, but two consecutive AFC Championships aint bad and if you look at Coryell's career, he was handicapped by two cheap-ass owners ...

In St Louis he builds a winner in a tough division, with an exciting offence but then gets fired by the owner after a 7-7 season. Nobody is knocking the door down to put Bill Bidwell in the HOF ...

In San Diego he loses to the Raiders in the 80/81 AFC Championship game, so what does the owner Klein do ?
He gets rid of a proven All-Pro receiver and a HOF defensive end !

The Chargers go back to the Championship game, where their great offence loses in sub freezing weather ...

If my stats are correct, the Chargers led the NFL in total offence seven out of eight years and Joe Gibbs from Coryell's staff, became a HOF coach himself.

WMcCoy
WMcCoy

The best chance I think for Coryell & other coaches is if they are not part of the modern or senior pool...they need to be separate, if not every year, at least every other

JeffS76
JeffS76

There's something to be said for that. I don't think Coryell had a HOF record as a head coach, but I DO think he made significant contributions to the modern game that qualify him. It'd make a lot of sense if they'd put people like Coryell into the contributor category.

JeffS76
JeffS76

It just burns me up that Gradishar wasn't chosen this year. Of the more recent players that were considered, Gradishar was the most decorated and in my opinion, clearly the most deserving...and somehow the selectors found him inferior to the likes of Jim Covert? I was annoyed the day it happened and am still not over it. I really hope they'll correct that error this year, but at this point I'm guessing his time has passed.

billyw
billyw

Randy Gradishar had HOF written all over him. I hated the Broncos when I was younger. There offense (pre-Elway) was so boring. But Gradishar was a stud. Not sure how he is not in but Harry Carson is.

sweetg
sweetg

raider fan but gradishar should have been hall of fame five years after he retired.


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