Gradishar reinforces importance of serving in local community
Randy Gradishar knows about giving back.
The Denver Broncos Ring of Fame linebacker was in Grand Junction on Wednesday as the keynote speaker at the Salvation Army’s 101st Civic Celebration.
Gradishar is no stranger to civic service. He was introduced to community involvement by his coach at Ohio State University, Woody Hayes.
“I give the credit to Woody Hayes because he talked about paying forward,” Gradishar said.
“He had us lined up from a freshman to a senior doing a couple of hours volunteering at a children’s hospital or senior citizen home, basically showing up and being involved in the community.”
Gradishar retired after the 1983 season and served on the Broncos’ Youth Foundation through 1992. He was also involved with Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s fellowship founded by former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney.
He’s the president of the Phil Long Community Fund, which provides finances to help youth gain self-esteem and leadership skills through education, sports and recreation.
Gradishar, 57, has been able to continue his civic work because of what he accomplished on the football field.
He is best remembered as one of the linebackers in Denver’s Orange Crush defense. He played 10 seasons for the Broncos and retired in 1983 at age 31 with more than 2,000 tackles.
“I found out very quickly that the Bronco fans were similar to the fans at Ohio State, where they were very loyal,” Gradishar said. “It’s all about the fans. We are playing the game, but the fans support the deal.”
Gradishar grew up in rural Champion, Ohio, and didn’t begin playing football until ninth grade.
After a solid high school career, his coach sent out a highlight film without Gradishar knowing, and the colleges started calling.
“First Bowling Green came along, then Joe Paterno came, Bo Schembechler called on the phone, I visited Purdue,” Gradishar said. “Then one day I get a call at my dad’s grocery store, and they say there is this Coach Hayes guy in the principal’s office wanting to talk to me.
“So we talked for a while, then we went to my dad’s grocery store and Coach Hayes stood there and talked with my dad for an hour about the big war, World War II. He never said ‘We need Randy, he will take us to more Rose Bowls.’ I learned then, he recruited the parents first.”
After a career as a three-year starter at Ohio State, Gradishar was drafted in 1974 by the Broncos in the first round.
He teamed at linebacker with Tom Jackson, Bob Swenson and Joe Rizzo to form a defense that led the Broncos to the 1977 Super Bowl.
“It was great to be a part of Broncos history,” Gradishar said. “Just getting into the playoffs was big because we’d never done that, then all of a sudden we beat the Steelers and the Raiders.”
The Broncos lost to the more experienced Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl.
“We had too many turnovers,” Gradishar said. “And you can’t beat a Roger Staubach-led team doing that.”
Widely regarded as one of the best linebackers of that era, Gradishar has yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a finalist in 2003, but is still waiting for the call.
“(Having) your name continue to be out there has been an honor,” Gradishar said. “I believe it will happen relatively soon, and it would be a personal honor, but it isn’t just about Randy.
“It’s about Floyd Little, me or Tom Jackson or someone that played in that pre-John Elway era getting recognized.”