Great players make big plays in big moments, and Hall of Fame players come up big for their team on the largest stage.
Steve Atwater did both.
The All-Pro safety punctuated his Hall-of-Fame career by having one of his best games when the Broncos franchise needed him most - and it was on the biggest stage.
Denver was trying to achieve their its Super Bowl victory in franchise history. With their star running back hurt and the offense stalling in the second quarter, Atwater came on a blitz, sacking Brett Favre and forcing a critical turnover which led to three Denver points, putting them up by two scores.
In fact, Atwater’s performance in Super Bowl XXXII was not only one of his best performances of his career, but also one of the best Super Bowl performances by a safety in league history.
Six solo tackles, two passes defensed, one sack, and the aforementioned forced fumble is quite the stat line, but even above the stats was the timing of Atwater’s best plays. The forced fumble came at a critical time to slow down Green Bay’s offense and give Denver a little more cushion. Later, in the 4th quarter with Green Bay driving and trying to tie the game, Atwater had a key pass defense on a 3rd and 8 forcing the Packers to punt.
Atwater’s other pass defense came on a near interception of Brett Favre (Atwater joked on the Mile High Report podcast with Ian and Adam that had he held onto the pick, he might have been named Super Bowl 32 MVP).
His presence in the run game also helped shut down a Packers team who had averaged nearly 120 yards rushing per game all season. Yet, with Atwater patrolling the box, the Broncos held the Packers to 95 yards, and only four first downs rushing all game. This was just the 5th time all season that they had been held to such a low rushing total.
The last play in the Super Bowl that everyone remembers is Atwater’s big hit on the Packers receiver with 32 seconds left in the game on a 3rd and 6.
The hit not only accentuates the dangerous nature of the game back in Atwater’s day, but also the level of commitment and passion with which he played. Steve was always all out, 100% of the time, and that came through in the team’s biggest moments.
This wasn’t the first time in his career Atwater had shown up in a big game. In 1992, in the divisional playoff game against the Oilers, before John Elway would engineer the Drive II in the final minutes, Atwater had one interception of Warren Moon called back due to penalty in the first half, and a second one that counted, stopping the Oilers drive short and giving John Elway an opportunity to score before half-time.
Big-time players make big plays in big moments, and Steve Atwater did just that.