The linebacker from the Broncos’ famed Orange Crush defense should hear his named announced Thursday during the NFL Honors program.
LAS VEGAS — It may have taken way longer than it should have, but the wait for Randy Gradishar is expected to end with a weekend-long celebration of football immortality.
It may not be the formality many thought as the final 50-member voting body held long discussions about some of the senior and contributor finalists. But all signs point to Gradishar formally receiving election into the Hall of Fame when the new class is announced Thursday evening during the NFL Honors program.
Thus the Broncos’ iconic 1977 Orange Crush defense is about to have its first Bronze Bust placed in the Hall of Fame Museum in Canton, Ohio. Can Louis Wright be next?
Reached this week, Gradishar, who may have been sworn to confidentiality, would not comment. An inside linebacker in Joe Collier’s then-innovative 3-4 defense, Gradishar was considered the best player on the 1977 Orange Crush defense that carried the Broncos to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
Now three weeks shy of his 72nd birthday, Gradishar was submitted for a final Hall of Fame vote by the senior players’ subcommittee in late August. He played in 151 of a possible 151 games during his 10-year career with the Broncos that started in 1974 when he was the team’s first-round draft pick out of Ohio State, and ended after the 1983 season, the first for a quarterback named John Elway.
In those 10 seasons, Gradishar became the first – and still the only – Broncos player to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an honor he captured in 1978. He was a Pro Bowl selection in seven of his 10 seasons. While tackle totals in that era are considered unofficial, Gradishar easily averaged more than 100 tackles a season and officially compiled 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdown returns.
Of the 19 HOF eligible players who had at least seven Pro Bowls with a Defensive Player of the Year honor, Gradishar was the only one who had not yet posed for his bronze bust. Even more outrageous was that of the first 74 Super Bowl participating teams – from the 1966 season through 2002 – the 1977 Broncos were the only team to not have a Hall of Famer.
The inexcusable snub is about to be rectified. While Denver’s fan base has consistently been considered among the NFL’s most passionate, there was nothing like the birth of Broncomania during the Orange Crush years in the late 1970s. There were Orange Crush pop cans carrying photos of Broncos players. Houses and cars in the Denver community were painted orange.
There have been sellouts for every home game at Mile High Stadium since 1970, but in 1977 and a few years after, nearly every seat was occupied. No-shows could be counted by the dozens, not thousands.
Broncomania became evident to the national football landscape in 1977, and the fan craze carried on for a good 45 years, even if it has lost some steam in recent years.
But now through Gradishar, the Orange Crush finally has a piece of NFL immortality. Gradishar endured some HOF voting disappointment. He was a top 15 modern-era Hall of Fame finalist in 2003 and 2008, his last year of modern-era eligibility. He seemed sure to be elected in the 10-member senior Centennial Class of 2020 but was surprisingly omitted. He made the cutdown from 12 to six senior player finalists last year but was not among the three nominated.
And now, a little more than 40 years after he played his last game, Gradishar is finally expected to be elected with his formal Hall of Fame induction ceremony to occur in early August in Canton, Ohio.
At that point, Gradishar would become one of only nine Broncos 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 Steve Atwater.
Hall of Famers who played four seasons for the Broncos are Peyton Manning, John Lynch and Willie Brown.
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