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Reason #7: Steve Atwater never let up

A safety is often the last line of protection for a defense, so he must be a reliable tackler and a hard hitter. That describes Steve Atwater’s game perfectly.


I’m not one of those fans who can remember single plays in a particular game of a distant season - or often even a recent one - with any detail that is deserving of the play itself.

Obviously I remember those iconic plays that every Broncos fan remembers because they were in such monumental games or at monumental moments, they could not be forgotten.

Plays like:

John Elway’s helicopter in Super Bowl XXXII;

Mark Jackson’s culminating TD catch in Elway’s magnificent “Drive” to tie the game for the 1986 AFC Championship;

Terrell Davis’ “decoy” run to set up a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl 32;

Al Wilson’s hit on Tyrone Wheatley in the “Snow Game” in 2004;

Ed McCaffrey’s “block” - followed by an even greater “taunt” - in SB32;

Steve Atwater’s hit on Christian Okoye.

Von Miller’s strip sacks on Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50.

I’m more of a big picture person. I remember dominant players, or great comebacks, games won by a last-second touchdown or interception, games lost by heart-breaking misses, players whose careers made an impact in Denver in any way.

So when I was asked to recall my “favorite Steve Atwater moment” on a recent podcast (and the Okoye hit was off-limits and Tim already took Super Bowl 32’s dominant performance), I was at a loss.

Besides those two obvious “moments,” how do you choose one of Atwater’s hits? Just one of his 1,074 tackles (24th all-time among tackle leaders), 24 interceptions or five sacks as a favorite moment?

And so that’s the thing. You can’t. The greatest part of Atwater’s game wasn’t that he had a litany of highlight reel moments.

His entire career is the highlight reel.

The fact that Atwater didn’t have just one great season of big hits but instead had a decade of them - with five seasons of off-the-charts number of tackles - tells you the kind of never-say-die mentality he had on the field.

His rookie season boasted 129 tackles, earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year. The following campaign, Atwater put up his highest total with 173 tackles, followed by 151, 150 and 141 the next three years, sitting out just two games in those five seasons.

The bottom line - Steve Atwater was a relentless defender, never giving up in any game on any play. Always playing through the whistle; always trying to get his guy down.

And proof of what that meant to the game of football comes in a story Andrew Mason has told on Adam and Ian’s podcast of Tony Dungy. When the Bucs coach had a young John Lynch struggling in his game, he pulled the safety into the film room and showed him clips of who else? Steve Atwater.

Because Atwater played with the technique and tenacity that Hall-of-Fame players do.

*editor’s note - If you want to hear what I did say because I couldn’t come up with one favorite Atwater moment - and instead told a funny story about how nervous I was answering a film analysis question from THE GREAT STEVE ATWATER on his Orange and Blue radio program - check it out on the 18:30 mark)