Atwater passed over for Hall despite notable support

By: Matt Jones
Published: Monday, February 4, 2019
Former Denver Broncos defensive player Bill Romanowski talks with fellow former player Steve Atwater prior to an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Former Denver Broncos defensive player Bill Romanowski talks with fellow former player Steve Atwater prior to an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

— Steve Atwater was again denied the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, but there appears to be growing support behind the former Arkansas safety to one day earn a place at the shrine in Canton, Ohio.

Atwater, 52, was passed over in his second time as a finalist for the Hall. He also was a finalist in 2016 and has been a semifinalist the past eight years.

This year's Hall of Fame class includes former players Champ Bailey, Tony Gonzalez, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed and Johnny Robinson, former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. Gonzalez, Reed and Bailey were in their first year of eligibility for the Hall, and Bailey, Reed and Law were defensive backs.

Finalists must receive at least 80 percent of the votes from the Hall of Fame's 48-member selection committee to be inducted. Jeff Legwold, a Broncos reporter for ESPN, reported that Atwater made the final 10 of this year's consideration. There were 15 finalists.

Prior to the vote, Reed said he hoped Atwater would be selected.

“I pray to God that Steve Atwater gets in," Reed said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "If I get in and he don’t get in, I’d rather give my space to him."

Atwater was a two-time Super Bowl champion, an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro safety with the Broncos from 1989-98. He finished his career in 1999 after his lone season with the New York Jets.

Atwater was selected by the Broncos 20th overall in the first round of the 1989 draft and earned the nickname "Smiling Assassin" because of his big hits.

Atwater started 166 games in his career - he missed only five games in 10 seasons in Denver - and recorded 1,180 tackles and 24 interceptions.

Ray Crockett, a former All-Pro cornerback and teammate of Atwater's for five seasons, tweeted Saturday that Hall of Fame voters "only understand stats and tangible numbers. When you have never been in a locker room, on the field or in a meeting room to understand true schemes and principles, you are truly emotionally guessing on how or if a player changed the game. Steve Atwater did!!!"

Arkansas has three players in the Pro Football Hall. Lance Alworth (1978) and Dan Hampton (2002) were inducted after long professional playing careers, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was inducted as a contributor in 2017.

Former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, another former Arkansas player, has been one of 25 semifinalists for the past three years, but has never been a finalist.

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