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Steve Atwater gets his long-overdue call to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Andrew Mason Avatar
February 1, 2020

In a downtown Atlanta hotel at this time last year, there was a knock at the door of Steve Atwater’s room.

Everyone in the room held their breath.

It was housekeeping.

False alarm.

One day shy of 12 months later, he got the knock at the door he wanted — the one from Hall of Fame President David Baker. And with that, Atwater’s wait ended.

Eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2005 and a finalist three times since 2016, Atwater finally got the word he and Broncos Country had long awaited on Saturday afternoon.

While Atwater is the second player in the Hall of Fame to play at least four seasons on the Broncos defense, he is the first to join primarily on his Broncos accomplishments.

Every other Bronco in the Hall of Fame considered to be inducted for their on-field accomplishments worked on the offensive side. The other defender, cornerback Willie Brown, spent four seasons in Denver before then-coach Lou Saban traded him to the Oakland Raiders in 1967, where he built his Hall-worthy resume.

While much has been made of the Broncos’ relative lack of Hall of Famers compared to their team-wide accomplishments, Atwater’s enshrinement will continue what has been a relative golden age for Broncos reaching Canton.

Atwater will become the fourth person inducted into the Hall of Fame on the strength of their Broncos accomplishments in the last four classes. He joins running back Terrell Davis (2017), cornerback Champ Bailey (2019) and owner Pat Bowlen (2019).

In 2021, quarterback Peyton Manning will almost certainly make it five in five.

Atwater is also part of a needed correction at the safety position. Until 2017, there were no pure safeties in the Hall of Fame who played after 1980; Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott, who were first-ballot inductees, spent lengthy periods of their careers at cornerback.

But in the last four years, the Hall has inducted Kenny Easley (Seattle, 1981-87), Brian Dawkins (Philadelphia, 1996-2008 and Denver, 2009-11), Ed Reed (Baltimore, 2002-12 and New York Jets and Houston, both 2013) and now Atwater and Troy Polamalu, who earned a first-ballot nod Saturday, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times.

Of course, the truth is that Atwater should have been wearing his gold jacket for ages now.

He is one of 43 players eligible for Hall of Fame induction who played at least nine seasons and was a Pro Bowler or AFL All-Star at least 70 percent of the time.

Heading into this week, he was the only one of the 43 who was not in the Hall of Fame. Three of the other players in that exclusive group were inducted last year: Reed, Bailey and Tony Gonzalez.

A wrong has been righted.

A truly deserving player now dwells among the legends.

Steve Atwater, the Smiling Assassin, is now a Hall of Famer.

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