Monday, April 21, 2008

Steve Atwater

Today is Steve Atwater. A first round draft choice in 1989, Steve wore number 27 as a safety for the Broncos for 11 seasons. He is the last player inducted into the Ring of Fame. Steve played in 8 Pro Bowls as a Bronco. Nicknamed "The Smiling Assassin" by former secondary coach Charlie Waters (I think), Atwater is famous for his hit on Chiefs running back Christian Okoye on Monday Night Football.

Steve Atwater concludes his brilliant 11-year NFL career as one of the most outstanding and most popular players in the history of the Denver Broncos organization. He joined the Broncos in 1989 as the club’s No. 1 draft choice (20th overall) and went on to earn eight Pro Bowl selections, second-most in team history. His string of seven straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1990-96 ties the franchise record. Atwater started all 155 games he played as a Bronco to tie for seventh in franchise history for games started, and logged 818 tackles (483 solo)—including five sacks (-39)—as well as 24 interceptions, 89 passes defensed, 12 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. In all he was involved in 45 turnovers during his career. Atwater ranks eighth in career interceptions (24) and seventh in interception return yards (388). Atwater also played in 14 postseason contests (all starts), which ties for third most in team history, while his 14 postseason starts rank second. In his postseason career he made 73 tackles (50 solo), including one sack (-1), as well as one interception, 11 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Atwater turned in one the best performances ever by a safety in a Super Bowl with his stellar play in Denver’s Super Bowl XXXII victory over Green Bay (1/25/98), posting six solo tackles, one sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. In addition to the eight Pro Bowls and two World Championships, Atwater will always be remembered for his signature hit on Kansas City running back Christian Okoye on Monday Night Football in 1990, the audio of which was captured by NFL Films and replayed numerous times over the years.
1999: Atwater played in 12 games and started 11 for the New York Jets, posting 55 tackles (36 solo), two passes defended and one forced fumble. He missed four games and was limited in several others because of a hamstring injury.
1998: Atwater started all three playoff games at free safety and ranked second on the team with 16 tackles (10 solo), to go along with three passes defensed and a forced fumble. His 14 career postseason starts rank second in franchise history, and he is tied for third in games played (14). In the AFC Divisional Playoff Game vs. Miami (1/9) he posted four tackles (3 solo) with one pass defensed, and he contributed five more (3 solo) in the AFC Championship Game vs. the Jets (1/17), to go along with a pass defensed and a forced fumble. Atwater knocked the ball loose from Alex Van Dyke early in the 4th qtr., leading to a recovery by Bill Romanowski. Atwater was Denver’s second-leading tackler in Super Bowl XXXIII vs. Atlanta (1/31) with seven (4 solo), as well as a pass defensed. Atwater — selected this season to his eighth Pro Bowl and third as as starter — started all 16 games at free safety and ranked fourth on the team with 85 tackles (55 solo), to go along with one interception and seven passes defensed. He posted his season-high of 9 tackles (5 solo) at Miami (12/21), and posted an 8-tackle performance at Seattle (10/11). His interception also came in the latter contest in the third quarter off Dan Marino. Atwater, selected by his teammates as the Broncos’ defensive captain for 1998, was also named the club’s 1997 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, also voted by his teammates.
An Honor Well Deserved
Broncos TV: Atwater inducted into the Ring of Fame
AUDIO: Pat Bowlen announces Atwater will be inducted to the Ring of Fame on Aug. 1, 2005
AUDIO: Atwater reacts to his Ring of Fame induction announcement, Aug. 1, 2005
Steve Atwater Photo Gallery
1997: Atwater, selected defensive captain by his teammates for the first time in his career, started 15 of the 16 games at free safety and tied for fourth on the team with 83 tackles (61 solo), including one sack (-18), as well as two interceptions, eight passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. His first interception came at San Diego (11/30) and was returned 22 yards for his first professional touchdown, and his next came in the season finale vs. San Diego (12/21) for a 20-yard return. In the regular season opener vs. Kansas City (8/31) he started at free safety and made eight tackles (6 solo), including a crucial stop of Chiefs fullback Kimble Anders at the Broncos 3-yard line late in the third quarter to help keep the Chiefs out of the end zone. The Broncos went on to win 19-3. Two weeks later vs. St. Louis (9/14) he made one solo tackle with two passes defensed, and suffered a partially dislocated right shoulder in the second half, missing considerable playing time. He was declared inactive on Sunday the following week against Cincinnati, breaking his string of 36 consecutive games played dating back to December of 1994. Atwater returned to action the next week at Atlanta (9/28). A week later vs. New England (10/6) Atwater posted six tackles (5 solo) and one fumble recovery in Denver’s Monday Night Football victory. The recovery came after John Mobley stripped the ball from Patriots receiver Terry Glenn to end a game-opening New England drive that had reached the Denver 28-yard line. The Broncos responded with their first touchdown of the game en route to a 34-13 win. At Buffalo (10/26) he made four tackles (2 solo) with one fumble recovery in Denver’s 23-20 overtime win on the weekend that would not end for the Broncos, overcoming a snowstorm in Denver that almost prevented the team’s departure, as well as a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Bills. Atwater’s fumble recovery came after Alex Van Pelt lost the ball with the Bills driving inside the Broncos 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. He followed that performance with 8-, 7- and 10-tackle efforts against Seattle (11/2), Carolina (11/9) and at Kansas City (11/16). Versus Oakland (11/24), he posted four tackles (3 solo), including his first sack of the season, as Denver defeated the Raiders 31-3 on Monday Night Football, the Broncos’ fourth straight Monday Night win. He dropped Jeff George for an 18-yard loss on the Raiders’ first series of the fourth quarter. Atwater left the game for several plays in the first half because of a hyperextended right elbow, but returned and played the rest of the way. In the preseason Atwater missed the Buffalo (7/26) and Miami (8/4) games because of soreness in his left knee following offseason surgery. Postseason: Atwater started all four games at free safety and played with the brilliance that has distinguished him throughout his nine-year career. He recorded 15 tackles (10 solo), including one sack (-1), a forced fumble and five passes defensed. His four starts moved him into a tie for sixth in career postseason games started by a Bronco (11). He capped a stellar postseason in Super Bowl XXXII vs. Green Bay (1/25/98) by turning in a performance as spectacular as that of any Broncos defender, and any in his career, recording six solo tackles, two passes defensed and a sack of Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre on which he caused a fumble that was recovered by Neil Smith. The sack and fumble came early in the second quarter and set up a 51-yard Jason Elam field goal that gave Denver a 17-7 lead. He later recorded one of the game’s biggest pass breakups on a 3rd-and-8 play from the Broncos’ 39-yard line early in the fourth quarter, knocking away a Favre attempt intended for Robert Brooks that would have given Green Bay a first down inside the Broncos’ 25-yard line with the score tied at 24-24.
1996: Atwater started all 16 regular season games at free safety and earned his franchise-record seventh consecutive Pro Bowl berth while being named second-team Associated Press All-Pro, first-team UPI All-AFC and second-team Pro Football Weekly All-AFC. He ranked third on the team with 116 tackles (89 solo), in addition to three interceptions (11 yards in returns), nine passes defensed and one forced fumble. Atwater also added two tackles on special teams. Versus Tampa Bay (9/15), Atwater started at free safety and made seven tackles (6 solo), while also knocking down two passes in Denver’s 27-23 victory. The following week at Kansas City (9/22) he registered nine stops (7 solo), including several hard hits, one of which unfortunately ended Chiefs’ wide receiver Lake Dawson’s season prematurely with a knee injury in the third quarter. This was the second game of an eight-week stretch in which Atwater had at least six tackles in every game, registering eight at Cincinnati (9/29), seven vs. San Diego (10/6), eight vs. Baltimore (10/20), six against Kansas City (10/27), six at Oakland (11/4) and 12 against Chicago (11/10). He also forced a key fumble against the Bears in the third quarter that prevented Chicago from taking the lead. The next week at New England (11/17) Atwater had five tackles (2 solo), knocked down a pass and registered his first interception of the season (11-yard return). The pickoff came on the first play of the Patriots’ second possession and set up the score that put Denver ahead 14-0 en route to a 34-8 victory. A week later at Minnesota (11/24) he started at free safety and made a game- and season-high 15 tackles (13 solo) in Denver’s 21-17 win. He picked off his second pass of the season at Green Bay (12/8), and notched his third against the Raiders (12/15). In Denver’s AFC Divisional Playoff vs. Jacksonville (1/4/97) Atwater started at free safety and made six solo tackles. He had offseason surgery on his left shoulder and left knee Jan. 15, 1997.
1995: Atwater started all 16 games at free safety and led the team with 148 tackles (107 solo), three interceptions and three forced fumbles. His tackle total was his best since 1992, and his interceptions were his most since ‘91. Atwater surpassed the 1,000-tackle mark for his career Dec. 10 vs. Seattle. He earned his Broncos-record sixth-straight Pro Bowl berth, as well as second-team All-Pro honors from College & Pro Football Newsweekly, and was voted by his teammates as the Broncos’ Defensive MVP. Atwater began his outstanding season with a team-leading nine tackles (8 solo) in the opener against Buffalo (9/3), including a big third-quarter, fourth-down stop at the Denver 1/2-yard line to thwart a Buffalo scoring threat. The following week at Dallas (9/10), Atwater registered 13 tackles (7 solo), an interception with an 11-yard return, and a pass defensed. He recorded a team-leading 12 tackles (8 solo) at Seattle (10/1), but had to leave early with a hyperextended elbow. He posted a team-leading 11 tackles (9 solo) at New England (10/8), and forced his first fumble of the year. In Denver’s 27-0 shutout of Oakland (10/16), Atwater made six tackles (2 solo), intercepted a pass and registered one pass defensed. His interception of a Jeff Hostetler pass on the second play from scrimmage set up the Broncos at the Oakland 19-yard line after an 18-yard return, and led to a 3-0 Broncos lead. Atwater had 10 tackles (6 solo) and a forced fumble against Kansas City (10/22), despite missing the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half after going to the locker room for an examination on his right shoulder. Atwater also recorded a team-high 14 stops (9 solo) at Philadelphia (11/12), but suffered a bone bruise that was downgraded from an initial diagnosis of a hyperextension. His third interception came against Seattle (12/10), and was reutrned 25 yards.
1994: Atwater continued his stellar play in the Denver secondary despite a disappointing year for the team. He started 14 of the Broncos 16 games at either free or strong safety and recorded 125 total tackles (72 solo) to earn his fifth straight Pro Bowl appearance. Atwater, who sat out at Los Angeles (12/11) and San Francisco (12/17) with an injured hamstring, also intercepted one pass (24-yard return), recovered two fumbles and forced one while registering eight passes defensed. His two starts at free safety came on opening day against the Chargers (9/4) and at Buffalo (9/26). Atwater registered double-figures in tackles six times and posted his best numbers against the Raiders at home (9/18) with 14 tackles (11 solo). His lone interception came at Seattle (10/9) in perhaps his best overall performance. In addition to his interception that he returned 24 yards to set up Jason Elam for the Broncos’ first points, Atwater recovered a fumble and returned it 17 yards to set up Denver’s only touchdown in a 16-9 win.
1993: Atwater became the first player in franchise history to earn four consecutive Pro Bowl berths, and was named All-AFC (UPI and Football News). He started every game for the Broncos, leading the team in tackles with 141 (80 tackles and 61 assists). Atwater also posted one sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles on the year. His big game came in a losing effort at San Diego (12/5), where he racked up 14 total tackles (nine solo and five assisted), which was one of six games in which he finished with double figure tackles.
1992: Atwater earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl berth in 1992, and was also named All-NFL (AP, NEA, PFW/PFWA, TSN,) and All-AFC (Football News). He led the secondary and was second on the team with 151 total tackles, (73 tackles and 78 assists), and also posted two interceptions, a sack, 12 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles. Atwater sat out the season opener against the Raiders (9/6) with a sprained ankle but rebounded to post 17 total tackles in week two against the Chargers (9/13), one of nine games in which he recorded double figures in tackles. Atwater had a big game at Buffalo (12/12), recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass.
1991: In 1991 Atwater earned his second straight Pro Bowl berth after a season in which he tied for the team lead with a career-high five interceptions and finished second on Denver’s AFC-leading defense in total tackles with 150. Atwater was also named All-NFL (AP, Pro Football Weekly, College and Pro Football Newsweekly second-team) and All-AFC (Football News, Pro Football Weekly). For the season he registered 83 tackles, 67 assists, 11 passes defensed, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Atwater was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Seahawks (9/15) in which he had 10 total tackles, picked off a pass, and recovered a fumble. He was in double figures in total tackles nine times that year, with a high of 14 vs. Phoenix (12/15). In post-season play Atwater had 17 total tackles and three passes defensed, and he intercepted a pass vs. Houston (1/4).
1990: Atwater made his first appearance in the Pro Bowl after a tremendous 1990 campaign in which he finished second on the Broncos’ defense with 173 total tackles, including a team-high 112 solo tackles, despite missing one game due to injury. For his efforts he was also named All-NFL (College and Pro Football Newsweekly 2nd team, Newspaper Editors Association – 2nd team) and All-AFC (UPI, Football News), and was voted by his teammates as Denver’s most valuable defensive player. In addition, Atwater also posted two interceptions, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and a quarterback sack, while also registering 10 total tackles on special teams. From his strong safety position Atwater posted five of Denver’s top-10 single-game tackle totals, including a personal high of 18 vs. Pittsburgh (10/14), and had 12 or more total tackles in nine games. He cemented his reputation as a hard hitter after a thunderous collision with Kansas City’s Christian Okoye in a nationally televised Monday night game (9/17). Atwater sat out the game vs. Seattle (9/23) with a rib strain and saw limited action against the Chargers (12/16) after suffering torn rib cartilage early in the first half.
1989: Atwater was named NFL All-Rookie (Pro Football Weekly, College and Pro Football Newsweekly) for a fine campaign. He made an immediate impact as the Broncos’ first-round pick, taking the place of former defensive captain Mike Harden at free safety and combining with strong safety Dennis Smith to form one of the NFL’s most physical safety tandems. Atwater started every regular season game and led the Broncos defense with 86 solos. He was second on the squad with 129 total tackles and also claimed three interceptions, 10 passes defensed and a fumble recovery. Atwater had two interceptions in Week Three against the Raiders (9/24), the second setting up the game-clinching field goal. He had six games with 10 or more total tackles, including a high of 12 vs. San Diego (10/8).COLLEGE: Atwater was a three-time All-Southwest Conference selection and two-time All-American at the University of Arkansas. He became the Razorbacks’ all-time interception leader with 14 over his four active campaigns. He went to the school as a wishbone quarterback but was moved to the secondary as a redshirt freshman. Atwater closed out his college career with an appearance in the Senior Bowl, a game in which he had two interceptions.

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