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Reason #21: Steve Atwater was ‘the enforcer’ for the Broncos’ defense

As Alex Marvez notes, Atwater was a ‘sledgehammer’ and he set the tempo for the Broncos’ D every game of his career.

Brian Blades

Steve Atwater is a second-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and while many of the voting sports writers may see him as a long-shot because his career doesn’t have the same stats as other safeties - notably that of Ed Reed who is also among this year’s 15 finalists - Atwater’s career in the NFL should not be seen as a long-shot for the Hall of Fame.

It should be seen as a model for it.

As Alex Marvez, one of the voting PFHOF sportswriters and a former Broncos beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, Atwater was the key to Denver’s defense.

Atwater was its enforcer.

“With Steve, he was a sledgehammer on defense. He set the tempo for what Denver was doing even before I started covering the team,” Marvez told last week. “We’re still talking to this day about his hit on Christian Okoye as one of the most devastating plays in the history of the NFL. That speaks volume about Steve Atwater. You think about when he wiped out three guys in the final minute of Super Bowl XXXII to help preserve the victory for the Broncos. That was a play that we’re never going to forget.”

As we have pointed out over and over and over in this series, Atwater never let up, and even if his hits weren’t always as devastating as the one to the “Nigerian Nightmare,” they always set a tone and a message to the other team - “Broncos are not backing down.”

Atwater was also tough as nails - after all, he felt the impact of his own hits as much as the other guy.

“He was a model of consistency, he played through injuries,” Marvez said. “It didn’t matter. He just set the tempo for a defense that was pretty darn good.”

Marvez said he always referred to Atwater as “future Hall-of-Famer Steve Atwater” when writing about him, and he still stands by that.

“I really believed that,” he said. “I was young. I didn’t feel though that I was being out of turn, because I just thought I was seeing real greatness for a guy who just brought so much to the game, so much to his team.”

That’s why Atwater’s career - which he finished 20 years ago - should be the standard for the NFL Hall of Fame.

Atwater not only had multiple Pro Bowl seasons, not only was named to the first-team All Decade Team for the 1990s, he was the lynchpin for his unit the years he played. Despite all of John Elway’s and Terrell Davis’ heroics in Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos don’t win that Super Bowl without Steve Atwater. And the Broncos don’t have a dominant team those Super Bowl years without No. 27.

He was a leader, he set the standard. Not just for the Broncos, but also for all NFL safeties.

Steve Atwater doesn’t just deserve the Hall of Fame at some point.

He deserves it this year.