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Randy Gradishar selected senior Hall of Fame finalist, a first for Broncos' 'Orange Crush' defense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The “Orange Crush” defense is finally getting its due.

Randy Gradishar, the leader of the Denver Broncos' famed defense of the 1970s, Steve McMichael and Art Powell were selected as senior finalists Wednesday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2024.

The “Orange Crush,” which also featured Rubin Carter, Tom Jackson, Lyle Alzado, Bill Thompson and Louis Wright, among others, helped lead the Broncos to a 12-2 record and their first appearance in the Super Bowl, where the Broncos lost to the Dallas Cowboys 27-10.

Gradishar, known for his fierce tackling and relentless play, said he received the long-awaited word Tuesday from Hall of Fame president Jim Porter while he was at his job at an auto dealership in Denver.

“My jaw actually dropped when he gave me the news,” Gradishar said after attending the Broncos' joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday. “It was just a godsend for me, one of those kinds of moments.

"I patiently waited 35 years for this to happen and be part of helping to represent the Orange Crush-Denver Broncos name.”

Gradishar, McMichael and Powell, who were chosen from a list of 12 semifinalists, will get into the Hall if they are supported by at least 80% of voters next January.

“We are thrilled for Randy Gradishar to take this significant step closer to his long-awaited place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner said in a statement. “The heart and soul of the iconic ‘Orange Crush’ defense, Randy is now on the doorstep of earning the game's highest honor.”

Coach Sean Payton began his post-practice news conference by congratulating Gradishar, whom he had address his team.

“It’s very inspirational,” cornerback Pat Surtain II said. “He was saying a lot of things, that he can’t wait to watch us this year and giving us tips on how to drive toward that next level to win ballgames. We want to bring that culture back, winning. That’s one thing that I’ve recognized about Broncos history and culture. We’re trying to reach that mountaintop.”

The Broncos have fallen on hard times, posting six consecutive losing seasons while churning through coaches and quarterbacks since winning Super Bowl 50 in Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning's final game.

For his part, Gradishar, 71, who helped lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1977 and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1978, now finds himself just one step away from enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, a long-awaited career capstone for the 10-year Broncos linebacker who was a modern era finalist in 2003 and ’08.

“The possibility of getting there was always about God’s timing in my mind,” Gradishar said. “It took a while but I’m just very, very glad and very happy to have this experience.”

NOTES: The Broncos and Rams held the first of two joint practices ahead of playing their third and final exhibition game on Saturday night at Empower Field. The teams last met on Dec. 25 and the Rams' 51-14 blowout of the favored Broncos led to Penner firing coach Nathaniel Hackett the next day. Hackett won just four times in his 15-game tenure. Surtain said the joint practice didn’t resurrect any memories from the teams’ previous meeting, however. “We try not to look at the past too much,” he said. “We just try to focus on what’s ahead.” … G Mike McGlinchey returned to practice for the Broncos for the first time since Aug. 8, when he suffered a knee sprain during a pass blocking drill. McGlinchey, an offseason free agent acquisition who played for the San Francisco 49ers, was the centerpiece of the Broncos’ efforts to shore up their offensive line. “It was good to have him back out there,” Payton said. “You feel his presence in the huddle from a leadership perspective. I know that we’re better when he’s out there.”

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