Good morning, Broncos Country!
A week later, it still doesn’t feel real.
I can only imagine how Steve Atwater feels. It was a week ago Saturday that the Denver Broncos legend got the knock on his hotel room door. The knock to let him know that he was the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On the MHR Radio Podcast, Adam Malnati and I were still over the moon for Atwater and this acknowledgement of what he meant to the game of football and the NFL.
“No, it hasn’t really fully set in yet,” Atwater told the media earlier this week at the Broncos’ facility. “Each day I keep going online to see (if) it still says Pro Football Hall of Fame there. It’s still there. Hopefully that doesn’t go anywhere. I’m just really and truly honored and blessed because it could have gone the other way again and I would have been congratulating the guys who would have gotten in and would have been genuinely happy for them, but I guess it was time.
“I’m extremely happy, thankful. The wait wasn’t too long. The wait was just right. The timing was right. I guess last year would have been a little bit better because my mom, she would have been here. Mr. (Pat) Bowlen would have been here, but this is perfect timing.”
It’s when Atwater talks about his mom that you see one of the most intimidating players in league history show true humility, tenderness and gratefulness. Atwater’s mom, Jesse, passed away on October 5 at her St. Louis home at the age of 75.
“When I was young, my mom and dad, they split up,” Atwater said. “My mom, she took care of us. My dad, he still provided financial resources, but he just wasn’t in our lives until I got to high school and then he started being in my life a little bit more. But she used to do everything she could. She’d take me to practice, pick me up from practice and be at all of the games. Any sport that I played, she supported me in it. She just made all types of sacrifices throughout her life. I know that she’s looking down proudly and she’s smiling up there in heaven.
“I wish she could be here, but I know for a fact that all of us will get to that point one day where we’re not going to be here. We’ve got to enjoy it while we can. She enjoyed her life while she was here. She was definitely a true blessing and showed me what it’s like to sacrifice for your family. She didn’t have much to sacrifice, but what little she had she sacrificed and made sure we were comfortable. I really appreciate that.”
The other times you’ll see true appreciation from Atwater is when he talks about his former teammate and Broncos great Dennis Smith. Atwater let it be known earlier this week that Smith will present him at the induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, in August. One of the greatest safety duos in Denver and NFL history reunites one more time.
“It is a big honor, and I hope he looks at it like that,” Atwater said. “For me, Dennis was the guy I had in my mind all along just because when I came into the league, he really spent a lot of time getting me up to speed and sharing things with me as a player that I never would have known. How to go about the game, the right mindset to have, and then just watching him play. Seeing how fast he played and how fearless he was when he went in to make tackles or make an interception when he covered one on one. He was great in man-to-man coverage, too. He played some slot corner for a while as a 6-3, 205-pound safety. That takes some skills to do that.
“I just learned so much from him. It’s a small way for me to say thank you for how much time he spent getting me up to speed and inspiring me. Just watching him play, it was inspiring.”
A week later, it still doesn’t feel real. I’m still over the moon for one of the greatest players in NFL history, and an even better man.
“I was very happy for him,” Broncos head coach Vic Fangio told the media. “It’s nice to get a guy that was known for hitting the hell out of people and getting him into the Hall of Fame. That’s what should be in the Hall of Fame.”
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