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Gradishar more than Hall of Fame worthy

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has been known for questionable, or frankly, downright stupid decisions over its lifespan.

The Hall of Fame class for the NFL’s centennial season was a chance to make up for all the mistakes that have been made. All the legends over the years who have yet to get the call to Canton — Roger Craig, Clay Matthews Sr., Drew Pearson, Randy Gradishar.

The latter, a Champion High School graduate, once again has been kept out of the Hall of Fame and, to me, it gets more egregious every time.

There are 10 linebackers in NFL history with seven Pro Bowl selections, 20 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. Nine of those 10 players are already enshrined. Gradishar is the lone exception.

The fact that he’s been retired for 37 years and has yet to hear his name is not only ridiculous, but tragic.

Now why would I be lobbying so hard for a player who retired 13 years before I was born? A player who I’ve never seen play live? Is it because I’m a Broncos fan? Probably a little, but I’d like to think it’s because I’m a football fan who has studied the game since I was a youngster.

Now, as a 24-year old with access to Google, I can go back and watch all the highlights I want. The tape doesn’t lie.

A knock I’ve heard on Gradishar is that he didn’t leave a lasting enough impact on the game. A simple Google search disproves that.

He spearheaded the famous “Orange Crush” defense that led the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl XII, where they fell to the Dallas Cowboys.

Also, there was an article in, fittingly, the Dallas Morning News that was published in December of 1992, “Singletary follows greats in commitment to excellence.” The story by Rick Gosselin makes one of the strongest cases for Gradishar without even trying.

“Mike Singletary sat alone in a darkened classroom, watching game films of fellow NFL middle linebackers Randy Gradishar and Jack Lambert … Singletary wanted to get better and wanted his team to get better. So he watched films of Gradishar and Lambert, the state-of-the-art performers at his position.”

If Singletary, who was one of the best to ever play the position, was watching film of Gradishar to improve, to me, that says more than any statistic could.

But he had the numbers too.

The 1978 Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time first-team All-Pro, seven-time Pro Bowler and according to Woody Hayes, Gradishar was “the best linebacker he ever coached.”

Aside from not winning a Super Bowl, Gradishar’s biggest mistake was to play in an era before tackles and sacks were counted as an official stat. The NFL didn’t begin tracking individual sacks until 1982 and tackles weren’t tracked by the league until 1994.

Former Broncos vice president of communication Jim Saccomano did his best to comb through the film to get an estimate and the numbers are shocking.

According to Saccomano’s estimate, Gradishar amassed around 2,000 tackles, solo and assisted, over his career, or an average of 200 per season.

Am I wrong in saying that Gradishar would have been in at least a decade ago if he had played for the “Steel Curtain” instead of the “Orange Crush”? Or, if Gradishar had played in “Big D” instead of having a big D on his helmet, he would have been enshrined the first year he was eligible?

Unfortunately, Gradishar is at the mercy of the Hall of Fame’s voting committee which has no qualms about keeping him and other underappreciated greats underappreciated.

I just hope that Gradishar is with us to celebrate when his bust is bronzed back in northeast Ohio, where it all began.

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