Randy Gradishar is a Hall of Famer, it’s simple as that.

However, Gradishar has been forgotten, overlooked and skipped over when it comes to putting him into those hallowed halls.

“If you ask me to name the five best linebackers I played against, or had a chance to cover in my broadcasting career, Randy Gradishar would be on that list,” Hall of Fame defensive tackle Merlin Olsen said of him. “There is no question about his credentials; Randy Gradishar belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

Why does the Denver Broncos linebacker deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

He was the most crucial member of that Orange Crush Defense which led the franchise to their first-ever Super Bowl and only Super Bowl without John Elway as a part of the team. That 1977 Broncos team was something special indeed, knocking off John Madden and the rival Oakland Raiders in Mile High Stadium’s first AFC Championship Game. That year, Gradishar was named First-Team All-Pro and elected to his second Pro Bowl as the leader of the defense. The legend enjoyed a total of seven Pro Bowl selections over the course of his 10-year career (1974-1983).

The next season, Gradishar was named First-Team All-Pro yet again, and that accomplishment was accompanied by AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Von Miller may be the best defender in the history of the Broncos, but Gradishar is the only player in Broncos history to take Defensive Player of the Year.

Certainly, one thing that hurts the Broncos’ star of yesteryear is the fact that the NFL didn’t start tracking tackles until after his career was over. And his numbers of tackles were astronomical.

And while he didn’t get the recognition of superstar contemporaries like Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert, Gradishar was known for making every play needed. He was a hard hitter, and Walter Payton said the hardest hit he ever received was from, “Gradishar, 1978.” He was a great run-stopper, but something Gradishar brought to the field that other middle linebackers didn’t was his ability to intercept passes.

Over the course of his 10-year career, the linebacker picked off 20 passes and even returned three of them for touchdowns. He led Denver with three interceptions in 1975 and enjoyed a career-high four picks in his Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

NFL Films’ Steve Sabol, who was among the 20 players and contributors enshrined in the Hall of Fame today, had this to say of Gradishar:

“His range separated him from others at his position. A sure and determined tackler, he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation and athletic ability. His ‘play anticipation’ was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact; which made him an incredible performer on third or fourth and short.”

The problem for Gradishar, now, is he retired nearly 40 years ago. He should have been the first-ever Broncos player enshrined in Canton, but he was overlooked and the historically important Denver franchise had to wait for John Elway (2004) to be their first member.

But, that’s exactly what this list of 10 players — from a bygone era — was supposed to resurrect; inducting players they missed.

Think of it this way: Only 10 players in NFL history enjoyed 7-plus Pro Bowl selections, 20 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. Nine of them are in the Hall of Fame. Gradishar is the lone exception.

Over the last decade, Denver’s been award a whole host of Hall of Famers. Elway was the first, followed by Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little (as an old-timer), Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Pat Bowlen and finally Champ Bailey. And, sure, there are others on the finalist list like Steve Atwater (long-deserving and overlooked) but the Broncos on the whole have been woefully underrepresented by the Hall of Fame.

Gradishar getting slighted once again is no surprise, but it begs the question: When will he finally get in?