Conversations with Ed go one of two ways – either extremely productive or he ends up getting pissed at me by remembering I had Clay Matthews as the best defensive player in the NFL from a list we compiled few weeks back. And sometimes it’s both making for one hell of a roller coaster of a conversation. The most recent one in particular however was useful and even shed light on a travesty the league continues to allow. Anyone care to explain exactly how Steve Atwater is not in the Hall Of Fame?
Let’s break it down into points.
1. A landlord amongst landlords — Ask your uncle. As your pops. Ask your brother. Ask your barber. Hell, ask anyone who followed the NFL during the ’90s and they’ll tell you Atwater owned the middle of the field like his kid’s college tuitions were in danger. Pass coverage was one thing, but the man made a living out of decapitating running backs. His biggest slight may be that he played with John Elway and he didn’t have the coolest nickname on the team (that honor belonged to “Easy” Ed McCaffrey). Imagine for a second though what those Broncos’ teams would have been like without Atwater, who was basically the Elway of the defense. Intimidation goes out the window as well as a list of other things the matrix would have clipped. And just for sh*ts and giggles, the man tallied 744 tackles in his first five seasons while averaging around 130 in 10 seasons in Denver!
2. Perspective – For what it’s worth, Ronnie Lott has long been considered the prototype for safeties and for good reason. The last thing my mother gave birth to me for 25 years ago was to question a man who chopped off his finger to keep playing football. That being said, Atwater’s list of accomplishments aren’t anything to go running aimlessly across the middle over either. He made the Pro Bowl eight times and named to the All-Pro team six times. Read between the lines, folks. More than half of his career, he was considered one of the premiere players in the league. Oh, and check this, he was named to the All-Decade Team. Being named one of the best players of a 10 year stretch but not getting enshrined in the Hall Of Fame is like being named Employee Of The Month for an entire year and still not receive a raise. Even if that was a horrible comparison, they’re both still unfair.
3. A career defining play — Every Hall Of Famer has a Hall Of Fame moment. Atwater’s hit on Brett Favre causing a fumble as well as the one where he took out two players at once (one being his own teammate) in Super Bowl XXXII are held in high regard because of stage. Everyone who watched Steve Sabol films coming up remembers the Christian Okoye hit though. When you’re dubbed “The Nigerian Nightmare” and actually live up to the name by mimicking a true-to-life Hummer with legs leaving linebackers, defensive backs and safeties in your wake, it’s easy to understand why he drank the kool-aid and believe no man on God’s green Earth could tackle him straight up.
Okoye and Atwater colliding was a classic case of irresistible force meeting immovable object. In this case, the immovable object won and what’s even more startling is how it basically altered the scope of each respective career. Okoye, like Suge Knight when he was knocked out, lost his entire edge and never made any serious noise afterwards. Atwater, meanwhile, cemented his legacy right then as one of the more physically intimidating players in the league. And what makes it even better is the conversation with a teammate right before the play happened.
Teammate: “We got, uh, Okoye at fullback.”
Atwater: “I don’t give a f*ck if he playin’ wide receiver.”
If that doesn’t make you want to tackle someone at the water cooler at work Terry Tate style, not much else will. Steve Atwater walked like he talked, hit even harder and actually held his own covering receivers (I’m looking at you, Roy Williams). The man was a walking weapon of mass destruction who is the second best safety of his generation, one of the most feared players in NFL history, the guy who single handedly destroyed one player’s reputation (and knocked Marcus Allen clean out causing him to get 10 stitches the week before) and two Super Bowl rings to his name.
I mean seriously, the proof’s in the pudding as my grandma would say. Outside of the person who thought of the revolutionary idea to put the yellow first down line on TV, is there anyone eligible for induction right now more deserving, at least on the defensive side, than Atwater? The world robbed Denzel for too long. Canton, stop making the same mistake with Steve Atwater get him a spot in the world’s greatest retirement home.