Atwater Should Get In...Eventually.
Over the next five days I will count down, starting with the longest shot, with long shot being used loosely since I believe all 5 should be in the Hall, and counting down to the one guy that is getting the biggest snub of all. Will it help their cause, I don't know, but I think it will be good, even for Broncos fans, to take a look at what some of these guys meant to the Broncos, the city of Denver, and the history of one of the NFL's greatest franchises. Each of my choices are retired and currently Hall-eligible.
5. Steve Atwater, Safety (10 seasons w/ Broncos - 1989-1998) -- Steve Atwater is arguably one of the most popular players ever to don a Denver Broncos uniform. Drafted in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft (#20 overall), Atwater was an incredible athlete. While in high school, Atwater played quarterback in a wishbone offense, and was a distinguished basketball player as well, getting invited to play in the prestigious McDonald's All-Star Classic. When Atwater arrived at Arkansas he was moved to the secondary where Atwater continued his dominant play. He closed out his college career with two interceptions in the Senior Bowl, paving his way to a first round selection.
Holding the 13th pick in the 1989 draft, the Broncos targeted Atwater to help bolster a run defense that had finished the previous season ranked 27th against the run. Knowing that Atwater would be available later in the draft, the Broncos traded the #13 pick to the Cleveland Browns(Eric Metcalf) for the #20 pick, used to pick Atwater.
What came next was a decade of excellence. Ten seasons, 8 Pro Bowl appearances, 6 All-Pro team selections (2 unanimous) and, most importantly, 2 World Championships. Sprinkle in dozen of booming hits, none more memorable than the destruction of Chiefs RB Christian Okoye on Monday Night Football, and you have what I believe should be a Hall of Fame Career.
Let's look a bit deeper at Atwater's statistical breakdown -
Atwater twice led the team in tackles, which is pretty impressive from the Safety position, and his first 5 seasons were as good as any safety to play the game. His career total of 1180 tackles ranks up with the greats to ever play. And when it comes to the ability to change the ebb and flow of a game with a single bone-crushing hit, only Ronnie Lott may come to mind before Atwater. Add to it inclusion on the All-Decade Team in the 90's and Atwater seems to have the credentials for inclusion.
So why is Atwater the "longest" shot of my five? The mentality of the voter. Unless you are a no-brainer like Ronnie Lott, a defensive back has to wait, usually a long time. All told, there are only 7 safeties in the Hall of Fame to begin with. That number shrinks in what is considered the "Live Ball Era", 1978-Now; only 1 defensive back who played in this era is in, Ronnie Lott. Of the nine safeties that are on All-Decade Teams from the 70's and 80's, only 3 are in the Hall, Ken Houston, Larry Wilson and Lott. Defensive Backs just don't get the credit they deserve from the voters.
In the end, I think Atwater gets in. His 8-Pro Bowls, 2 Super Bowl wins, his statistical output, combined with his reputation throughout the league, durability (5 missed games in 10 years in Denver), membership in the Broncos Ring of Fame, and overall standing as the leader of some pretty good Denver Broncos teams might take a while to get the credit it deserves, but should be enough in the end.
My odds - 15/1