Perhaps nobody is better able to observe what made Gradishar so good than the architect of that defense, defensive coordinator Joe Collier.
“Every year that he played, he led our team in tackles,” Collier said Tuesday. “He was good. He was very good. He was a linchpin of our 3-4 defense. … We ended up being, at that period of time, the number one defense as far as short-yardage, goal-line and inside the 20. Statistics weren’t kept on that kind of stuff at the time. But the fact that we were so good on short-yardage and goal-line defense was Randy. Randy was probably the best short-yardage, goal-line type of middle linebacker in the history of the NFL, really.”
Gradishar, who arrived in Denver as the 14th-overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft after a great collegiate career at Ohio State, played in 145 career NFL games, totaled 2,049 tackles, 19.5 sacks 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns.
He also earned two first-team and three second-team All-Pro selections from the Associated Press.
“He was so dependable, and he never missed a game,” Collier said. “Very rarely did he miss a practice. He was always right up in front in meeting rooms when we were working on game plans and that kind of stuff. So, he was kind of the leader of that group that we had during those years. Those things are kind of intangibles, you know, that aren’t statistically proven. … He was a pure football player. He just did everything very well. A well-rounded player, worked very hard in practice, worked very hard in the weight room, worked very hard in film study — all that kind of stuff that make what I consider good players and pure football players.”
For now, the Orange Crush still has no members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, unlike other famous defenses of the 1970s like Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters and Miami’s No-Name Defense of the 1970s.
But for Gradishar, the Broncos faithful hope his time will come soon enough.