Steve Atwater selected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

A detail shot the Pro Football Hall of Fame sign during the Grand Opening of the NFL s Super Bowl Experience at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

From Broncos and NFL Communications

Former Denver Broncos safety Steve Atwater was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020, it was announced on Saturday evening at NFL Honors in Miami.

Atwater becomes only the second defensive player in Broncos history elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame who spent a significant portion of his career with the team, joining cornerback Champ Bailey (Class of 2019). A three-time finalist (2016, ’19-20) for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Atwater was also a semifinalist for the past nine years (2012-20).

“This is a great day for Steve, the Broncos and all our fans,” said Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis. “Steve was a dominant safety who changed the game as one of the most-feared players of his generation.”

Chosen by the 48-person Selection Committee, Atwater will officially be enshrined with the rest of the modern era inductees in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, in August as the main event of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement week.

“We congratulate Steve on his well-deserved election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Ellis. “I also want to thank and recognize Jeff Legwold and the selection committee as well as our fans, who have been so supportive of Steve’s Hall of Fame credentials.”

Atwater is the eighth former Bronco elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame who spent a significant portion of his career with the franchise. He joins quarterback John Elway (Class of 2004), tackle Gary Zimmerman (Class of 2008), running back Floyd Little (Class of 2010), tight end Shannon Sharpe (Class of 2011), running back Terrell Davis (Class of 2017), Owner Pat Bowlen (Class of 2019) and cornerback Champ Bailey (Class of 2019) with that distinction.

Other former Broncos players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame include cornerback Willie Brown (Class of 1984), running back Tony Dorsett (Class of 1994), safety Brian Dawkins (Class of 2018) and cornerback Ty Law (Class of 2019).

Regarded as one of the toughest and hardest-hitting safeties in league history, Atwater played the first 10 seasons of his 11-year career with the Broncos after being selected by the club in the first round (20th overall) of the 1989 NFL Draft from the University of Arkansas.

Atwater was voted to a franchise record-tying seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1990-96, and his eight career Pro Bowl selections are the second most by a player in Broncos history.

A first-team selection for the 1990s NFL All-Decade Team as chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, Atwater received All-Pro recognition three times (first-team – 1991-92; second-team 1996) by the Associated Press. During his 10 seasons with the franchise, Atwater helped the Broncos win the third-most total games (109) in the NFL. His teams made six playoff appearances and won four AFC West Division titles during that stretch.

In 167 career regular-season games (166 starts), Atwater totaled 1,357 tackles (857 solo), 24 interceptions (408 yds.), five sacks (34 yds.), 13 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. He recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his first eight NFL seasons, finishing first or second on the team in defensive stops in seven of his 10 years with the Broncos.

Atwater also started 14 postseason games for the Broncos—the second most in team history—and contributed 54 tackles (38 solo), one interception and one sack. One of just three Broncos (QB John Elway, CB/S Tyrone Braxton) who started Super Bowls for the team in both the 1980s and 1990s, Atwater played in four conference championship games and was part of 10 postseason wins.

Atwater’s play against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII, a game in which he totaled six tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two pass breakups, was instrumental in Denver winning its first-ever World Championship. He followed that up by helping the Broncos win their second of back-to-back Super Bowls in 1998 (SB XXXIII) before finishing his career with the New York Jets in 1999.

Nicknamed the “Smiling Assassin”, Atwater was voted as one of the Top 10 most-feared tacklers of all-time by NFL Films. His infamous hit on Chiefs All-Pro running back Christian Okoye in 1990 was selected as one of the Top 100 plays in NFL history (No. 83).

A two-time All-American and three-time All-Southwest Conference selection at Arkansas, Atwater was named a consensus All-Rookie selection and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by Football Digest following his initial 1989 season in which the Broncos advanced to Super Bowl XXIV.

Atwater, who has worked for the Broncos as the team’s fan development manager for the past three seasons, was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2005 and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

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