Randy Gradishar was born on March 3, 1952 in Warren, Ohio. Gradishar attended Ohio State University to play his college football and was extremely impressive. He was a starter for three years from 1971-73 (freshman were not allowed to play). Gradishar was one of the most versatile linebackers in college football history and a two-time All-American. He finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior and was the anchor of the 1973 unit that recorded four shutouts and allowed only 64 points overall. Legendary Head Coach Woody Hayes said of Gradishar, “The greatest defensive player I ever coached.” (1)
Randy Gradishar Jersey
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Randy Gradishar Broncos
Randy Gradishar was selected in the first round; pick 14 of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. “I wasn't totally sure where Denver was,” Gradishar said. “I literally went and looked.” (1) It didn’t take long for Gradishar to become acclimated with Denver or for Broncos fans to become acclimated to him. About halfway through his rookie season he cracked the starting lineup. Added Joe Collier, defensive coordinator at the time: “He stepped right in and became the signal caller.” (1)
Birth of the Orange Crush Defense
On opening week of the 1976 NFL season, starting defensive end Lyle Alzado was injured. This was the moment that caused Denver to switch to a 3-4 defense. With their talent at linebacker, they soon became known as the Orange Crush Defense. “We had played it some, but we'd never gone to it full time,” Collier said. “We decided our depth at linebacker was much better than at defensive line.” The outside linebackers were sensational: on the strong side, Bob Swenson, who could slip through heavy traffic to find the ball carrier; on the open side, Tom Jackson, with blurring speed. Running plays were funneled to Gradishar in the middle, and were assisted by Joe Rizzo, next to Gradishar in the middle. (1)
Gradishar, Defense Lead Broncos to Super Bowl
The 1977 season was a magical one in Denver. The Orange Crush Defense was alive and well and Broncomania had reached new heights. Gradishar and the Broncos’ defense came up big all season, especially in short yardage situations. The Broncos started the season against St. Louis at Mile High Stadium, recently expanded to seat 75,002. Gradishar predicted a shutout. In the early minutes, Gradishar stuffed Jim Otis for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Broncos four-yard line. In the closing minutes, the Broncos jammed St. Louis at the seven, preserving a 7-0 win. “All 11 of us got really passionate about short-yardage situations. We kind of frothed at the mouth,” Gradishar said. “We weren't invincible, but it was like, 'Just test us.'“ (1)
After the Broncos defeated Buffalo, Seattle and Kansas City, they headed to Oakland for a showdown with the Raiders, who jumped to a 7-0 lead on their first possession. But Rizzo picked off a Ken Stabler pass to set up Denver's first score; Rizzo intercepted Stabler again with the Broncos leading 14-7, then Gradishar intercepted a pass before halftime as the Broncos cruised to a 30-7 win. “That was the key game,” said Collier, who watched his defense intercept seven Ken Stabler passes.
For the season, the Broncos allowed only 148 points on defense or 10.6 points per game. In half of their games, their opponents were held below 12 points. To put this in perspective, the 85 Bears allowed 12.4 points per game and they are considered by many to be the best defense of all-time.
Randy Gradishar Stats
Randy Gradishar was one of the greatest inside linebackers to ever play professional football in the NFL. The Denver Broncos standout had an astounding 2029 tackles in only 10 NFL seasons. For his greatness, the Denver Broncos added him to their Ring of Fame. “I'm sure it will be a joyous time for me, gratifying and exciting,” Gradishar said leading up to the ceremony. “It will provide an opportunity for me to relive a lot of old memories, specific memories, memories of the (1977) Super Bowl year. It's quite an honor, certainly.” (2)
Gradishar was defensive player of the year in 1978. "He doesn't miss very many tackles, but his greatest asset is his ability to stay unblocked." said Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier. "That’s the reason he gets in on so many tackles.” Broncos’ head Coach Red Miller added, “Others have had more physical ability, but when you consider Randy’s mental approach to the game, he's the best there is." (4)
Should Randy Gradishar be in the Hall of Fame?
Now the only honor that awaits Gradishar is the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has come close on several occasions and now will have to go in through the seniors’ committee. Here is what some of his coaches have said about him.
“I've never seen a more gifted and talented athlete than Randy Gradishar,” said former Broncos coach John Ralston. “He had incredible natural talent. He could have played any position - a great tackler, great range, could intercept the ball, run with the ball. He could do it all. One of the best to ever play the game.”
“One of the four best linebackers I've ever seen,” said Ralston's successor, Red Miller.
“Randy Gradishar was as good a linebacker as I have ever been around, and I have been around some of the great ones,” said Miller's successor, Dan Reeves. (3)
“If he was missing a couple teeth, he'd probably be (in the Hall of Fame),” Collier said. (1) He definitely deserves to be in the HOF, joining John Elway and Gary Zimmerman as the only Denver Broncos. I hope he is inducted one day.
By A. Goodin, 20Yardline.com
Randy Gradishar Biography Sources
(1) CLAIM TO FAME ALMOST 20 YEARS AFTER HIS GLORY DAYS WITH THE ORANGE CRUSH, RANDY GRADISHAR RECEIVES SERIOUS CONSIDERATION FOR FOOTBALL SHRINE.(Sports) (2003, January 25) Rocky Mountain News
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