Paul Dietzel contends “you can learn more character on the two-yard line than anywhere else in life.” For the heart and soul of the legendary ‘Orange Crush’ Denver Broncos defenses, this could not be any more true. Randy Gradishar, arguably the most glaring NFL Hall of Fame snub in history, manned the middle of the Broncos defense for a decade. Despite his lack of enshrinement thus far, Gradishar must find himself in the Hall of Fame sooner than later. Until Randy Gradishar is enshrined as he deserves, the NFL Hall of Fame will continue standing inferior to Halls of other professional sports.
Randy Gradishar and the NFL Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame made Steve Atwater wait. They made one of the league’s most important owners in history wait until after he passed away from Alzheimer’s. It is almost completely indisputable the Hall of Fame has long held a bias against the Broncos.
Randy Gradishar is merely the latest Bronco forced to wait far longer for enshrinement than he ever should. The game the NFL Hall of Fame wants to play has taken a backseat in recent years, however. In the last five seasons, Denver has had six men inducted into the Hall— most in the league. Until Gradishar is enshrined, though, the NFL Hall of Fame will carry with it a glaring asterisk.
Inside Linebackers in the Hall of Fame
Names like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Jack Lambert, and Mike Singletary grace the halls of Canton, Ohio. These interior linebackers are widely regarded as the best in history at the position, accruing a combined seven Super Bowl wins between the four. If one were to take a look at their statistics throughout their careers, one would likely find themselves impressed.
For Lewis, 17 years saw 2,059 tackles, 30 interceptions, 41.5 sacks, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, 13 Pro Bowl selections, seven First-Team All-Pro selections, and three Second-Team All-Pro Selections.
Urlacher earned 1,361 tackles, 22 interceptions, 41.5 sacks, an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, eight Pro Bowl selections, four First-Team All-Pro selections, and one Second-Team All-Pro selection in 13 years.
Jack Lambert put together 1,479 tackles, 28 interceptions, 23.5 sacks, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, 10 Pro Bowl selections, eight First-Team All-Pro selections, and two Second-Team All-Pro selections in 11 seasons. He did so playing in only one game greater than Gradishar did.
Mike Singletary, on the other hand? Singletary compiled 1,488 tackles, seven interceptions, 19 sacks, an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, nine Pro Bowl selections, six First-Team All-Pro selections, and two Second-Team All-Pro selections in 12 years. Singletary also won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
These statistics suggest all four men are highly deserving of their enshrinements in the Hall of Fame. But how do their statistics stack up against the un-enshrined Randy Gradishar?
Making the Case for Randy Gradishar’s Induction
A Heisman Trophy candidate in 1973, Randy Gradishar left Ohio State as the all-time leading tackler in Buckeyes history. In the nearly 50 years since he left Ohio State, Gradishar has only dropped to 11th-most tackles in school history. His efforts at Ohio State saw the linebacker enshrined in their Hall of Fame. He would also go on to find himself enshrined in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. He should (and must) add the NFL Hall of Fame to this laundry list of accolades sooner than later.
Randy Gradishar’s Professional Career
Known for his stature and his play at the goal-line, Gradishar led the ‘Orange Crush’ defense for a decade. From 1975 through 1983, Gradishar helped lead the defense to allow the third-least rushing yards in the entire league. The Broncos were behind only the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Steel Curtain’ and the Dallas Cowboys ‘Doomsday’ defenses in that regard.
He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1978, receiving the George S. Halas Trophy (for the most outstanding defensive player) in the same season. He also added six All-Pro selections, seven All-AFC selections, and a Pro Bowl selection in 70 percent of his seasons. These laurels make it obvious Gradishar had a uniquely decorated career. In fact, his seven Pro Bowl selections are the most ever by an un-enshrined linebacker.
Where his statistics truly blow away all of the presently enshrined inside linebackers is in his tackle figures. In Gradishar’s ten seasons with Denver, he accrued 2,049 tackles for an average of 204.9 tackles per season. Over 200 tackles averaged per season and over 14 tackles per game. To compare with the leading tackler of the aforementioned enshrined linebackers, Ray Lewis, Gradishar earned a mere ten fewer career tackles in seven fewer seasons.
This figure is unparalleled in history and likely will never see another player break the record. For reference, over the last decade, the league-leader in tackles has averaged 160.5 tackles. That means Gradishar averaged more than 45 greater tackles per season than the average league-leader for the last ten years. The league’s shift toward passing lends credibility to the claim this record and per-season average will never be surpassed.
Gradishar added at least 20 interceptions and at least 20.5 sacks, illustrating just how iconic Gradishar’s performances as a Bronco truly were. The national media bias against the Broncos, especially as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned, is the only reasonable explanation for Gradishar to not have received enshrinement yet. Should the Canton voters intend on the Hall deserving the recognition and respect a Hall of Fame demands, they will need to enshrine Randy Gradishar. Failure to do so will simply taint the legacy of the Hall of Fame.
It is far past high time for Randy Gradishar to be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. It is essentially inexcusable he has already had to wait nearly two decades. His play and his statistics are equal to or greater than literally every single interior backer in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, no player with his statistics (who has been eligible for enshrinement) has not received enshrinement.
Every year the NFL Hall of Fame fails to induct the most proficient tackler in NFL history is another year the NFL Hall of Fame insults itself. While objectively inferior players at countless positions are already enshrined, Randy Gradishar unacceptably continues to wait. With linebackers like Patrick Willis likely finding themselves inducted with the next Hall of Fame Class, there is no valid excuse for Gradishar to not also receive enshrinement.
All in all, the existence of a Hall of Fame bias against the Denver Broncos is almost completely undeniable. Even in light of the recent counteractivity to this bias, the Broncos still have a wide array of players who have no business not having a bust in Canton. Without owner Pat Bowlen to fight for what Gradishar more than deserves, the best tackler in NFL history will need quite a bit of help to get past the politics.
If anyone deserves it, though, it is Randy Gradishar. For proof, all you need do is follow Paul Dietzel’s postulation. Witness Gradishar’s character and deservingness for yourself— right on the goal-line.
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