Top Moments of Steve Atwater's HOF Career
When it comes to Hall of Fame nicknames, the “Smiling Assassin” is a first-ballot selection.
Steve Atwater’s Hall of Fame candidacy took longer than his supporters hoped, but the hard-hitting safety is on his way to Canton.
Known for his devastating hits and physicality that aren’t seen in the modern game, Atwater carved out a lane and legacy all his own throughout his career.
With a reel of highlight hits and statistical accolades to his name, there are a plethora of moments that defined this Denver Broncos legendary career.
Here are the picks for the best.
5. ATWATER ENDS BRONCOS CAREER WITH 2ND SUPER BOWL WIN
GAME: DENVER BRONCOS VS. ATLANTA FALCONS
WHEN: JANUARY 31, 1999
Atwater went out on top as a Broncos legend.
The final game of Steve Atwater’s Broncos career came on the sport’s biggest stage — the 1999 Super Bowl.
While the first Lombardi win with the Broncos was a touch more dramatic, this performance capped off Atwater’s legendary career in the Mile High city.
He finished his 10-year stint with a six-tackle performance that helped lead the Broncos to a dominant 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons to claim Denver’s second Super Bowl victory.
4. ATWATER’S ROOKIE SEASON
WHEN: 1989-1990 SEASON
The Broncos made a big investment in Atwater by drafting the Arkansas Razorbacks with the No.20 pick in the 1989 NFL Draft.
The free safety was immediately utilized by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who moved Atwater closer to the front seven to be a factor in the rush defense.
Atwater hit the ground running in the new spot even as a rookie, recording a team-best 129 tackles.
3. ATWATER’S PROLIFIC 1991 SEASON
WHEN: 1991-92 SEASON
Atwater burst onto the scene during his 1989 rookie season, but it took three years before he was acknowledged for being one of the most feared safeties in the league.
Atwater intercepted five passes, forced and recovered one fumble and recorded 150 total tackles — good enough to earn him First-Team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career.
He would finish his career with two First-Team All-Pro honors and eight Pro Bowl selections in 11 seasons.
2. ATWATER LEVELS CHRISTIAN OKOYE WITH DEVASTATING HIT
GAME: DENVER BRONCOS VS. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
WHEN: SEPTEMBER 17, 1990
Atwater’s highlight reel is filled with remarkable hits that the contact-minded safety laid on opponents, but none is more devastating than what he did to the “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye.
On a Monday Night Football clash with the Chiefs, Atwater met the 253-pound Kansas City running back up the middle and knocked him onto his back with a hit that would go viral instantly in today’s age.
1. ATWATER CLINCHES FIRST SUPER BOWL WITH VICIOUS HIT
GAME: DENVER BRONCOS VS. GREEN BAY PACKERS
WHEN: JANUARY 25, 1998
Atwater put on an MVP performance in Denver’s first ever Super Bowl win, a 31-24 triumph over the Green Bay Packers.
Atwater recorded six tackles, two pass deflections and one forced fumble — enough to earn the applause and acclaim of those around him.
But it was one of the final plays of the game that will always be remembered when discussing the “Smiling Assassin.”
With Denver holding the 31-24 lead and the Packers driving down the field with 36 seconds remaining, Brett Favre lofted a ball down the left hash for Robert Brooks. Right as Brooks stretched out for the ball, Atwater came flying in with his left shoulder to deck the receiver, unintentionally taking out teammate Randy Hilliard in the process.
All three players involved were forced to leave the game for the final few plays. Luckily for Atwater, the stop helped kill any momentum the Packers had driving down the field and led the Broncos to the Lombardi Trophy.
SEE ATWATER ENSHRINED INTO HALL OF FAME
Steve Atwater will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020 on August 7, 2021.
Secure your access to see the Class of 2020 Enshrinement Ceremony with an Official Ticket Package from HOF Experiences. Packages include VIP parties, meet-and-greets with Gold Jackets and much more.
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