Broncos greatest players of all-time: #8, safety Steve Atwater

1998 AFC Divisional Playoff Game - Miami Dolphins vs Denver Broncos - January 9, 1999

He brought devastation with a smile over the middle.

The countdown of the top 50 Denver Broncos of all time continues with the arrival of Steve Atwater at number eight.

The Smilin’ Assassin has been the topic of several articles and discussions in recent years. We here at MHR, along with everyone in Broncos Country, spent years pushing for Atwater to make the Hall of Fame.

Ian and I had the fortune of bringing Atwater onto our podcast a couple times. I can admit, it made me a little giddy every time I had the chance to speak with him. When he finally got the call to the Hall it was a big deal for all of us.

Why? Because as a 90s kid, Atwater was THE guy on the defense. He was a legend, and some of his hits conjure up almost mythical memories of woozy wide receivers and unconscious running backs.

He gave us one of Broncos Country’s favorite jokes: “Remember that hit Atwater put on Christian Okoye? Okoye doesn’t.”

The Nigerian Nightmare went nite-nite!

When Atwater was drafted by the Broncos in 1989 he joined a team that had been to back-to-back Super Bowls a few years earlier, but were unable to get a win. His rookie year would see him take over the FS position opposite Dennis Smith, and immediately he made an impact.

The league found out quickly that Atwater and Smith were dangerous. In his first year the Broncos returned to the Super Bowl, but ran into one of the greatest teams of all time. All I have to do here is say 55-10.

Still, from that season on, it was Atwater in the defensive backfield that altered offensive play calls. His infectious smile, coupled with his highlight reel hits earned him the nickname Smilin’ Assassin.

I’ll never forget talking to Steve about his playing days. He had so many great plays, and games, but he pointed out one game in particular that has to be mentioned here. Super Bowl XXXII.

John Elway wasn’t the only player on that field looking to put an exclamation point on his career. Atwater talked about his play that day. Looking back at the game, if there had been a defensive MVP award, it would have been his.

He had 6 tackles in the game, including a strip sack of Brett Favre early on that was recovered by Neil Smith. That play swung momentum to the Broncos. He was all over the field and had 6 passes defensed. He also has one of those Atwater moments where everyone ended up out cold. As the seconds ticked away, and Denver was nearing their first Super Bowl win, Favre threw a pass and Atwater launched himself into the mix.

The image of Tyrone Braxton standing at the scene, hands out wondering what to do is perfect. Knocked out on the ground in front of him at about the 10 yard line was Atwater, Packer receiver Robert Brooks, and Broncos CB Randy Hilliard.

While Braxton looked on in disbelief, color commentator Paul Maguire with the best line, “Atwater just killed Randy Hilliard.”

We often picture John Elway spinning through the air like a helicopter when we think of the Broncos determination to get that first Super Bowl win. It’s a great image, but Atwater throwing himself into a play as Brett Favre tried to lead a comeback for the Packers is another perfect example of the old veterans doing everything to win.

Atwater was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame first team all-1990s team. He went to 8 Pro Bowls, and was first team all pro in both 1991 and 1992. His spent his career crushing opponents and bringing fear to the hearts of men. He did it all with a smile.

Number 8 on this list, sending chills down the spine of WRs over the middle everywhere, Steve Atwater.

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Title: Broncos greatest players of all-time: #8, safety Steve Atwater
Author: Adam Malnati

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