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Former Broncos' Reeves, Gradishar among Hall of Fame finalists

Both say they are honored to make their lists. Reeves is one of eight coaches vying for two spots. Gradishar is one of 20 players vying for 10 senior spots.
Credit: Associated Press (AP)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This may be difficult to believe, but the Broncos aren’t the only NFL franchise that has players and coaches who have been snubbed by Pro Football Hall of Fame voters over the years.

The Hall of Fame itself picked the NFL’s 100th season to open its doors a little wider for those who are generally considered deserving of bronzed immortality but have so far fallen short of election.

Former Broncos head coach Dan Reeves and linebacker Randy Gradishar have never been closer to having their busts bronzed – yet they also understand they shouldn’t set appointments with a sculptor.

Reeves was one of eight coaches finalists – two will eventually be elected -- and Gradishar among 20 senior players – 10 will be chosen – by a special 100-season panel tasked with sweeping some forgotten greats into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I’ve made the cut before but I haven’t been able to make the team,’’ Reeves said with a chuckle in a phone interview with 9NEWS. “It’s an honor to even be on the list. Hopefully, it works out. If it does, that’d be great. But there are so many people that belong in that thing that I’m just honored my name’s there.’’

Reeves competition for the final two spots who will be part of the Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class: Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Buddy Parker and Dick Vermeil.

None of those coaching candidates have been to as many Super Bowls as Reeves has. Reeves not only went to four Super Bowls, he went with two different teams – three times with the Broncos and once with the Atlanta Falcons.

Yes, Reeves went 0-4 in those Super Bowls, but so did Bud Grant and Marv Levy, who long ago were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been on the bad side a lot of times but I also know how great it is when you do get on the winning side,” Reeves said. “Just to get there is unbelievable. The things you accomplish just to get in that game.”

Reeves was also an eight-year player as a Dallas Cowboys' running back who threw a halfback, 50-yard touchdown pass in the famed 1967 Ice Bowl at Green Bay and was part of the Cowboys' Super Bowl VI-winning team in 1971. 

Gradishar was a 10-year standout as an inside linebacker for the Broncos’ famed Orange Crush defense. He was also an underrated playmaker as he had 20 career interceptions.

He was a two-time modern-era, top 15 finalist before he was moved to the senior pool in 2009.

“I’ve been through this a number of times and I’m just very grateful that they remembered my name,’’ Gradishar said in his phone interview with 9NEWS. “Being part of the 20 finalists list is a great honor. I look forward to what the outcome is going to be. There’s a lot of great ballplayers on this senior’s list. It’s something where I’m not going to speculate on it. It would just be a great honor if that does happen.’’

Gradishar’s competition for the 10 senior Hall of Fame spots includes:

  • Cliff Branch, receiver
  • Harold Carmichael, receiver
  • Jimbo Covert, offensive tackle
  • Roger Craig, running back
  • Bobby Dillon, safety
  • LaVern Dilweg, end
  • Ox Emerson, offensive line/linebacker
  • Cliff Harris, safety
  • Winston Hill, offensive tackle
  • Cecil Isbell, quarterback
  • Alex Karris, defensive tackle
  • Vern Lewellen, halfback
  • Tommy Nobis, linebacker
  • Drew Pearson, receiver
  • Donnie Shell, safety
  • Duke Slater, offensive tackle
  • Mac Speedie, end
  • Ed Sprinkle, multiple positions
  • Al Wistert, offensive/defensive lineman

Speedie was the Broncos’ head coach from 1964-66. Only Gradishar among the 20 senior candidates anchored one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. Outrageously, not one member of the Orange Crush defense of the late-1970s is in the Hall of Fame.

A special election to add 10 senior players, two coaches and three contributors is the Hall of Fame’s way of trying to correct years of wrong. The panel’s final Centennial Class vote is expected in about three weeks.

“Being honored this way with the 100th year and being part of that it’s probably just a little bit more special,’’ Gradishar said. “100 years of pro football and to be considered in the last 20 is just very, very exciting for me to part of that.’’