For some reason the voters have not elected a pure safety to the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Ronnie Lott in 2000 (He did play cornerback for his first four seasons, but he is still considered a safety). If agreeing to Lott being a pure safety doesn’t suit you, then Paul Krause was the last one the voters saw fit to send to Canton. That was in 1998, nearly two decades ago. Playing at an often overlooked position by said voters may be why Steve Atwater has not donned the gold jacket next to his bronze bust. His career accomplishments are certainly not the reason.
Atwater spent eleven seasons in the NFL. He went to the Pro Bowl eight times, was a first team All-Pro selection twice, in total an All-Pro selection three times, and made the NFL All Decade Team for the 1990s. He also made 1,180 tackles, intercepted the ball 24 times and is a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Atwater helped the Denver Broncos reach three Super Bowls that culminated in winning back to back championships. However, he did more than just help them reach those Super Bowls, he was instrumental in getting the Broncos their first championship. In fact, some would argue he could have been the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXXII. His play was nothing short of stellar. He was credited with six solo tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and two passes defensed. Furthermore, his big plays came at the times when the Broncos needed them most. He sacked Brett Favre and forced a fumble when Terrell Davis was sitting out the second quarter due to a migraine. On a blitz, he batted down a pass at the line that was intended for a wide open Green Bay receiver. Finally, during the Packers frantic charge in the final minutes, Atwater broke up a pass with a collision so fierce two players where knocked out. Had those plays not been made it is possible the Packers could have won the game.
Voters and uniformed media people will point to his low career interception count as a negative. Granted 24 interceptions don’t rank as high in history as many other defensive backs, but that was not why Atwater was drafted nor was it required of him. His skill set was as an enforcer, intimidator and run stuffer at which he was the best ever. If you don’t believe that ask Christian Okoye for validation. He is invariably included in every “Hardest Hitters” or “Most Feared Tacklers” list. He transformed the safety position, paving the way for the “in the box safety” and making it a sought after position.
If Atwater had a few more career interceptions he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. With his accomplishments those said interceptions are not needed for entry into Canton. The voters need to stop ignoring the safety position and Atwater must be number one on their list for induction.