Another Denver Bronco readily deserving enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Steve Atwater, simply because he revolutionized the role of the Safety position in modern football. Half of what is arguably the best Safety tandem the Broncos ever fielded, Atwater was the first Safety to play like a Linebacker and a Cornerback simultaneously. He would fly up into the box and stuff the Run and was quick enough to close on a Receiver and deal punishment over the middle.
Atwater was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 1st round (20th overall) of the 1989 NFL Draft. He spent 10 of his 11-year career as the Free Safety opposite Dennis Smith in one of the most ferocious Safety tandems in the history of the NFL. The “Smiling Assassin” started every game (155) he played in Denver. He was voted to a franchise-record seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1990-96 and trails only Quarterback John Elway (9) for most Pro Bowls by a Bronco. Atwater, who finished his NFL career in 1999 with the New York Jets, recorded 24 career Interceptions with the Broncos to rank 8th in team history. He twice led Denver in Tackles (1993 and ’95) and posted 1,301 Tackles (818 solo), five Sacks (39 yds.), 89 Pass Breakups, 12 Forced Fumbles and nine Fumble Recoveries as a Bronco. Steve averaged 130 Tackles per season in Denver.
Steve finished 2nd to Kansas City’s Derrick Thomas in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 1989. The following year he made a name for himself on Monday Night Football. On September 18, 1990 at Mile High Stadium against the rival Kansas City Chiefs, Atwater floored Chiefs 253 pound “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye, a running back that made a living running over defenders. It was one of the greatest hits in NFL history and is still played on NFL Films to this day. This thunderous hit put Steve Atwater on the NFL map and is the most famous hit in Denver Broncos history. Before the game, Atwater was fitted with a wireless microphone to capture the sound of the shot.
Here are his major accomplishments
- Football Digest NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
- 8-Time Pro Bowler
- 4-Time all-Pro
- Consensus All-NFL (1991, 1992)
- 3-Time Super Bowl starter (XXIV, XXXII and XXXIII)
- 2-Time Super Bowl Champion (XXXII and XXXIII)
- NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
- Elected as the 20th member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame on October 9, 2005
- Inducted into the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor in 1998
Steve’s backfield partner, Dennis Smith once said that he was running toward the hole where an opposing Running Back was heading and something flew by him and made the hit and Tackle before he could get there. That something was Steve Atwater.
The pair fed off each other as well as complimented each other on the field. Off the field, Steve will tell you that he learned how to be a Pro from Dennis and Smith will tell you that Atwater is way more talented then he ever was. That just shows you what kind of friendship the two Bronco Legends share.
A Mile High Salute to the “Smiling Assassin” Steve Atwater.
– Kaptain Kirk