Steve Atwater. The Smiling Assassin. Super Bowl champion. Whatever you prefer to call him, it’s best to just call him elite. Atwater was one of the most fearsome and hard-hitting safeties in the game. Atwater revolutionized the position, and when he was on the field, no one could eclipse him. In the years since his Hall of Fame nominations began, he has continued to be senselessly overlooked despite his exceptional career stats.
Making the Case for Steve Atwater in the Hall of Fame
After 11 impressive seasons, Atwater finished with 1,074 tackles, 24 interceptions, six forced fumbles, and five sacks. Fellow Denver Bronco and long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneer John Lynch had 736 tackles, 26 picks, 13 sacks, and 16 forced fumbles in his 16 season career and has already entered the Hall of Fame. Another fellow Bronco and long-time Philadelphia Eagle Brian Dawkins recorded 895 tackles, 37 interceptions, 36 forced fumbles and 26 sacks in his 14 season career.
Both Dawkins and Lynch have already been voted into the Hall of Fame, and Atwater must be next. While longevity is obviously respected in pro football, Atwater playing for fewer seasons shouldn’t negatively impact him. Especially when Atwater still managed to lead both Lynch and Dawkins in tackles, and post similar interception stats as well. To put Atwater’s excellence into perspective, Dawkins and Lynch managed just one more Pro Bowl appearance each despite playing three more seasons and five more seasons than Atwater, respectively. Atwater was able to accomplish more in various areas despite playing significantly fewer seasons.
Stepping Up When It Mattered Most
Just by regular season statistics, Atwater is a Hall of Fame talent, but he didn’t stop after the regular season. Atwater played in 14 playoff games and was a starter for the Broncos in their Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII victories. His two Super Bowl victories are more than Lynch and Dawkins had as players combined. His most memorable playoff moment came on the biggest stage of them all in San Diego, California, the home of Super Bowl XXXII.
The Broncos found themselves clinging to a 31-24 lead as Brett Favre marched down the field. Facing a third and six with 36 seconds to go, Favre threw the ball to Green Bay receiver Robert Brooks. Brooks gets his hands on the ball while attempting to make a diving catch, right as Steve Atwater comes in with the force of a runaway freight train. Brooks couldn’t even dream of catching this ball. Atwater’s massive hit left himself, teammate Randy Hilliard, and Robert Brooks all out of commission for the following fourth down. This charged Green Bay with their third and final timeout because of the injury. Following this, the Packers failed their fourth down attempt. The Broncos were Super Bowl champions.
His Plethora of Career Accomplishments
But of course, his stats go beyond what he was able to do in the game’s biggest moments. Every game in his career was a big moment. His 11 seasons in the NFL earned him eight Pro Bowl appearances, two first-team All-Pro appearances, and a roster spot on the NFL 1990’s All-Decade team. The next vote he needs is a Hall of Fame vote. The 1990’s All-Decade defensive squad had 14 Hall of Famers. Atwater is one of the best players on that squad, whether he’s in the Hall of Fame or not. Atwater accomplished more than most players dream to accomplish but somehow hasn’t been given his proper due. His stats, his Super Bowl victories, and his impact as a player must result in his Hall of Fame entry. His greatness should be recognized automatically, not argued for in an article.