Gradishar deserves Football HOF nod
It’s funny that I have to write another one of these.
Not funny in a “ha ha” kind of way, but more of a “Seriously? You’re actually making me do this again?” kind of way.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee has once again decided to carry on the tradition of missing the mark. With its nominee pool for the Class of 2022 down to 15 finalists, there were bound to be some great names left off.
Around two years ago, I wrote a column talking about Champion High School alumnus Randy Gradishar’s exclusion from the expanded Hall of Fame class in celebration of the NFL’s centennial season.
It was a perfect time to play “catch up” and include players that were more than worthy of selection, but lost to time due to one reason or another. A great concept that allowed players like Duke Slater, the first-ever African-American offensive lineman and Harold Carmichael, the massive Philadelphia Eagles receiver.
It didn’t cover everyone though. Two linebackers with northeast Ohio ties, former Cleveland Brown Clay Matthews Sr. and Gradishar were both left off the final list once again.
I’ll admit I’m biased. I’m a Broncos fan, raised by my dad who is also a Broncos fan. He grew up watching Gradishar, something I’ve only ever experienced from YouTube clips and NFL Films videos.
Despite this, I’m still a fan of the sport and its history. The “Orange Crush” is one of those nicknames you always hear about. The defense that took the Broncos from being a joke of a franchise for the better part of its early existence, to facing off in Super Bowl XII.
While the unit has widely been regarded as one of the most notable defensive groups throughout the game’s history, it has no real representation in Canton. The closest thing to representation in the Hall of Fame is Tom Jackson receiving a broadcasting award for his work with ESPN.
The leader of that group was none other than Champion’s Gradishar. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978, two-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time pro bowler that was described by Woody Hayes as “the best linebacker he ever coached.”
Every year that passes without Gradishar reaching the Hall of Fame gets more and more criminal.
We’re long past giving this man his due. This upcoming class would have been another great opportunity, but the final 15 nominees were announced and Gradishar’s name was nowhere to be found.
I cited this same article last time I wrote this, but it bears repeating. Pun not intended. Rick Gosselin wrote in 1992 that legendary linebacker Mike Singletary watched film of Gradishar to make improvements to his game.
“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.”
Keep in mind, both of those other guys have their gold jackets, and Lambert was regarded by the Hall of Fame as “the greatest linebacker of his era,” despite having very similar stats to Gradishar according to estimates for both players.
So what’s the difference? Does Gradishar’s lack of a Super Bowl ring matter that much in determining Hall of Fame status? I think that’s a little ridiculous, especially when the numbers are so close.
This isn’t to disparage Lambert by the way. He’s absolutely worthy of the gold jacket he has. It’s just that they both should have their busts, not just one.
Playing in an era before most defensive stats weren’t tracked is probably the biggest knock against Gradishar’s career. Former Broncos vice president of communication Jim Saccomano had a solution however.
Saccomano went through film and estimated that Gradishar amassed around 2,000 tackles, solo and assisted, over his career, or an average of 200 per season. The player with the most tackles last season totalled around 160.
As someone that has no power over this situation, I unfortunately can do nothing but use this platform to complain. Maybe one of the committee members decides to pick this paper up and read this.
To a committee member, if you’re reading this, you should definitely put in a good word for Mr. Gradishar.
That being said, I’m not going to hold my breath. I fully expect that I’ll be writing another one of these next year. Maybe one day the committee will make the right decision. I just want to see one of the game’s greatest linebackers get his just due.