The Broncos, however, were only worried about whether Gradishar would last all the way to No. 14. Head coach and general manager John Ralston had called Hayes, who assured him he’d be able to play a decade and would be “the best player you’ve got,” Ralston told Frei.
In an attempt to ensure Gradishar would be a Bronco, Denver attempted to trade into the top 10, but they were rebuffed as New Orleans made a deal with Detroit. All they could do was hope he’d still be there.
But worry turned to elation when the Saints, at No. 13, selected another Ohio State linebacker over Gradishar, leaving him for Ralston and the Broncos.
“Defensive coordinator Joe Collier came beaming out of John Ralston’s office at 10:05 a.m. Tuesday and his wide smile told the whole story,” The Denver Post’s Dick Connor reported.
Even decades later — after Gradishar forged a career as the best inside linebacker in Broncos history with seven Pro Bowl selections, two first-team All-Pro nods and 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors — he recalled that moment as one of the top three of his career.
“My first memorable moment would be the draft in 1974,” Gradishar told DenverBroncos.com in 2020. “I go back to when I was in high school. We didn’t even start playing football until I was in ninth grade. I went to Ohio State, played in the Michigan game, played in the Rose Bowl game, became an All-American. Then I get a call from John Ralston. ‘Hey, Randy, it’s John Ralston with the Denver Broncos!’ And so they drafted me in the first round. That was just a real blessing. I hadn’t planned on being that. Coming out to Denver was just a real blessing.”
And as for Daddio, the scout who graded Gradishar as one of the draft’s three top prospects, he proved prescient even before the future leader of the Orange Crush defense played a single down in the NFL.
After the Broncos drafted Gradishar, Daddio was asked a simple question: Why Gradishar?
“Because he’s great,” Daddio answered. “There’s no question in my mind he’s one of the best linebackers ever to play at Ohio State. This kid was a starter for three years. He captained them this year, he’s a fine student and a leader. He’s got the size you look for, the smartness and he’s a great hitter.
“This kid will play for us.”