Denver Broncos legend Steve Atwater has been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020. It has been a long wait for him and one of frustration for fans, but that wait and that frustration gave way to elation on Saturday with news that he made the final cut. For Atwater, there was excitement and relief that his wait is finally over.
“Excitement more than anything else,” Atwater said. “I guess there is some relief because although I tried to play it kind of calm and cool, it was kind of stressful situation just wondering if it would be this year or next year of maybe never. I know some of the guys were pretty confident saying it’s just a matter of time for me. I’m extremely honored. You see I’m repping Mr. B right here. I wish he was here to have his special moment with us—he and my mom. My dad is here, my wife, my kids. My dad’s not in town, but he’s alive and he’s going to enjoy this with me and all of Broncos country. All of you are my friends in the media here in Denver. We’re going to do it up. We’re going to do it right.”
Inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2005, Atwater had a much longer wait in store when it came to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a nine-time semifinalist beginning in 2012 and was a finalist in both 2016 and 2020. It’s been a long process.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t even aware of the process at that time. When I first became a finalist, I was like ‘What’s the process like.’ I kind of dug a little bit deeper. I want to say until about five, six years ago—I really didn’t take it that seriously in terms of it I was a serious contender. As of late a lot of the guys that I played with—played in Pro Bowls together, we played against in the playoffs—they had been asking me, ‘When is it going to happen?’ I’m like ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ Then at that point I really started to feel like it was a real possibility for me because some really good players kind of had my back. I think it was a matter of the writers being able to see the value of the safety play and our team and how good of a team we had back then because it certainly was just not me. I’m not just representing myself. I’m representing all my guys that I played with—[former Broncos] Dennis Smith, Tyrone Braxton, Mike Harden—we didn’t play together, but all those guys I’m representing—Alfred Williams, Ray Crockett, my boys. It’s going to be a great day for all of us. I’m really honored and appreciative that this is happening.”
Ever since Super Bowl 32, Broncos Country has been waiting for the flood gates of the Hall of Fame to open up for the Broncos legends of old. That didn’t really happen until recently.
However, since John Elway’s induction in 2004 and Gary Zimmerman’s in 2008, things have accelerated for former Broncos greats. Floyd Little in 2010, Shannon Sharpe in 2011, Terrell Davis in 2017, Champ Bailey and Pat Bowlen in 2019, and now Steve Atwater in 2020 has solidified the Broncos representation in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to a point where most of us feel a bit more satisfied by it. The one key omission at this point is Randy Gradishar.
With more Broncos getting in, it does seem to put this franchise on the radar of key selection committee votes. Hopefully that means more Broncos being inducted in the near future.
“I think the more Broncos players that we have in, I think the more that will get in. I don’t think they’re—I think just like we saw up on stage today. You had Bill Cowher. You had Donnie Shell. You have Troy Polamalu. Hopefully we can get some momentum to where we have two, three, four guys on the stage at one time. I’m hoping that that can happen. I’m hoping Randy Gradishar of course can get in. We’ve got a lot of guys that are on the slate. Karl [Mecklenburg] probably be in the seniors pool. Of course, Dennis Smith—hopefully in the future we can get more guys in. I think it certainly helps to have more guys in than with fewer.”
If you haven’t been able to watch the video of Atwater’s reaction to the knock at his hotel room door, it is worth every second of your time. With his wife and one of his sons with him, the moment was a special one for him and his loved ones.
“It was awesome. I wish the whole crew could have been here, but not everyone could have made it. Everybody has jobs and school so everybody couldn’t be here. It was awesome having them two here. We got to connect with my other kids. I talked to my dad. It’s been amazing. I’ve got a picture on my phone I think I’ve shown you guys—a picture from when I was on the phone with my wife on draft day when I was talking to the Broncos on the phone. My wife and I were right there and she’s right here with me now. It’s been a great journey. She’s one of my best friends—my best friend, but I’ve got some other best friends too. It’s really great to have them with me. My son, he’s awesome. All my sons are awesome. I’m glad he could be here with me.”
As a Broncos fan who grew up during Atwater’s career, there was no player I wanted to emulate when playing ball than him. From the hit on Christian Okoye to an underrated Super Bowl 32 performance, Atwater gave it his all on the football field. I am personally very happy for him and for Broncos fans who feel as I do. Yesterday was a great day.
Here are the rest of Atwater’s quotes from Saturday’s presser.
On his infamous hit on Christian Okoye
“That story may have to come up a little more now. It was again I think inspired by Dennis Smith. He was my guy, my strong safety. In meetings we’d just look at film and talk about how we were going to attack him. Fortunately, I had the opportunity and it turned out well. I’ve been in other games with some guys who probably weren’t as big Christian Okoye was, but I’d go up and hit them and they got me—they get the best of me. Definitely the timing was right and I was fortunate I came out on the good side of that.”
On what it means to join the Hall with teammates from the Broncos first two Super Bowls and the first thing they said to him
“I think some may have texted me, but I haven’t been able to check my phone because it’s going crazy right now. I haven’t spoken to them yet, but I know it’s going to be awesome. [Pro Football Hall of Fame RB] Terrell [Davis], he had actually texted me yesterday and said good luck. I saw he had really said some really nice things about me. I think that all those things help. It really means the world to me to be able to join those guys. [President of Football Operations / General Manager] John [Elway] and I, we’ve been hanging out some since we’ve been here. He came up on stage, got the hug. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of another special group. I’m a part of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and I’m a part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame now. I just can’t believe I said that.”
On what the hug from Elway was like
“It really is special knowing all the things that we’ve been through—what happened my rookie year. He had lost some Super Bowls prior to that. I know my rookie year we went and lost to San Francisco, then getting over the hump, sticking with it and then being able to win those two in ‘97 and ‘98 everything had come full circle. To be able to experience that with the same quarterback, it’s one of the best times of my life.”