At long last, the iconic Orange Crush defense will be represented in Canton, Ohio.
LAS VEGAS — No more waiting, Randy Gradishar. No more election disappointment.
The star linebacker from the Denver Broncos’ famed Orange Crush defense has been officially elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was announced Thursday during the NFL Honors program.
Gradishar had to wait 35 years since he first became eligible for Hall of Fame election. A long time. But now that he’s in, he’s in forever. And forever is a lot longer than 35 years.
“I’ve been waiting a while,’’ Gradishar said in an interview Thursday night with 9NEWS after his election was announced. “Never knew, never dreamed of even playing with the Denver Broncos and being a pro athlete and coming from Ohio State and all the sudden you’re drafted into the NFL, I never dreamed about any of that. And then for the last number of years being considered for this Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Broncos’ public relations boss Patrick Smyth came up with a creative plan to inform Gradishar of his HOF election.
“I was told the Penners wanted to know a little bit more about the Orange Crush that was so good and (Steve) Atwater is going to talk to you afterwards,” Gradishar said. “We believed that so the Broncos sucked us in.”
On Friday morning, Jan. 26, Gradishar and his wife Beth did meet in the office of owners Greg Penner and Carrie Walton Penner. After they talked Orange Crush, Greg Penner led the Gradishars into a conference room. There were former teammates Tom Jackson, who was flown in from Cincinnati, and Billy Thompson, who was flown in from Florida. Atwater, who was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2020, stepped forward and said to Gradishar, “Welcome to the Hall to Fame.”
Gradishar’s knees buckled in relief.
“It was just a blessing for me and my wife to know that I finally got in,” Gradishar said.
And then the gang celebrated with lunch at Del Frisco’s.
Gradishar, who is three weeks shy of his 72nd birthday, was elected as a senior player finalist, as was former Chicago Bears’ defensive tackle Steve McMichael. In a surprise, coach finalist Buddy Parker and senior player finalist Art Powell failed to receive the required 80 percent vote from the 50-member HOF voting body and will not be enshrined during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in August in Canton, Ohio.
Gradishar, at long last, will be there. He will be joined there by five modern-era electees, Dwight Freeney, Patrick Willis, Julius Peppers, Devin Hester and Andre Johnson.
Gradishar, the Broncos’ first-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 1974, was an inside linebacker in Joe Collier’s then unique, 3-4 defensive system. Denver’s perennial tackle leader, Gradishar also had 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns while never missing a game during his 10-year career.
He earned seven Pro Bowl berths in those 10 years, was a two-time All Pro and in 1978 was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Gradishar was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1989 but only made it to the voter’s room as a top 15 modern-era finalist in 2003 and 2008, his final year of modern-era eligibility. At that point he was moved to the vast senior pool. Where the wait lengthened.
While football immortality had eluded Gradishar the first 40 years after he retired, and 35 years of Hall of Fame eligibility, his Orange Crush defense from the 1977 season has long been recognized as one of the best defenses in NFL history. That year, the Denver D allowed just 10.6 points per game while carrying the Broncos to the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Now that Gradishar is in, perhaps cornerback Louis Wright, linebacker Jackson and safety Thompson can be considered for the Hall. Look it up. They’re all worthy.
“And that’s what I’m hoping,” Gradishar said. “I never dreamed about getting in the NFL and then all the sudden this Orange Crush happened in 1977. Everybody went nuts and so we got named and yeah, I’m the first guy going in and right now I’m hoping and praying there will be other guys who will be considered. mTheir names will come up and they’ll get into the system and hopefully being nominated.”
Gradishar is the ninth Bronco who spent at least five seasons with the team to become a Hall of Famer, joining John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Champ Bailey, owner Pat Bowlen and Atwater. Five other Hall of Famers played either three or four seasons with the Broncos: Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Willie Brown, Brian Dawkins and John Lynch.
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