DENVER — The long wait is almost over for one of the Broncos’ greatest players ever.
Linebacker Randy Gradishar, the driving force of the Orange Crush defense, was picked as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024. Gradishar was announced Wednesday as the candidate. He was selected from a veterans committee. To advance to the Hall of Fame – assumed a rubberstamp move – Gradishar must get 80 percent support from the Hall of Fame voters in January.
“His election is long overdue,” said former Broncos punter Bucky Dilts.
Added former New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning, “I only played against Randy a few times. But I am telling you from playing back during that time, he absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
A former star at Ohio State, Gradishar became an immediate force for the Broncos. He was known as brute force on goal line stands and a tackling machine. In fact, his tackle totals were so great, many voters have had trouble wrapping their heads around his statistics. He delivered 20 career interceptions and was named the AP Defensive Player of Year in 1978
“It is special. That 1970s defense needs to be recognized,” said safety Steve Atwater, one of three Broncos defensive players in the Hall of Fame along with cornerback Champ Bailey and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
Per the Broncos, of the first 74 Super Bowl participating teams in history, the 1977 Broncos are the only one without a Hall of Famer. The other clubs averaged six Hall of Famers.
Gradishar has never campaigned, believing it would work out without PR. His work on the field is his legacy and should soon be rewarded with immortality.
Joining Gradishar as finalists this year were Steve McMichael, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and member of the 1985 Chicago Bears – who are widely regarded as one of the greatest NFL teams of all time – and Art Powell, who played in three pro leagues from 1959-1968 and made four Pro Bowls as a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders.
Gradishar, McMichael and Powell were chosen from a group of 12 senior candidates still eligible for the Hall of Fame. A 50-person selection committee will consider them for enshrinement early next year.