Atwater, Johnson must wait another year for Hall of Fame enshrinement

By: Matt Jones
Published: Thursday, June 25, 2020
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson yells from the sidelines during the fourth quarter at the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 30, 1994 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Johnson's Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 30-13 to win their second consecutive Super Bowl title. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson yells from the sidelines during the fourth quarter at the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 30, 1994 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Johnson's Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 30-13 to win their second consecutive Super Bowl title. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)

— The latest Arkansas Razorbacks elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame must wait another year for their enshrinement.

The Hall of Fame announced Thursday it is postponing this year's induction ceremonies because of the covid-19 pandemic. Twenty men in the 2020 class — including former Arkansas football players Steve Atwater and Jimmy Johnson, and Arkansas native Cliff Harris — will be enshrined Aug. 7, 2021, at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

A second enshrinement on Aug. 8, 2021, will be conducted for players elected to the Hall of Fame next year.

“This is the right decision for several reasons, first and foremost the health and welfare of our Gold Jackets, incoming centennial class of 2020 members, hall personnel and event volunteers,” said David Baker, the hall's CEO. “We also must consider the most appropriate way to fulfill the first tenet of our mission: To honor the heroes of the game. This decision meets that duty.”

Atwater and Johnson were to bring to five the number of former Razorbacks in the Hall of Fame. Lance Alworth and Dan Hampton are enshrined as players, and Jerry Jones as a contributor.

Atwater, who was elected in his 16th year of eligibility, said he doesn’t mind waiting another year for his induction because delaying the festivities “is the smart thing to do.”

Atwater said he never was one to lament his long wait for football immortality and sees no reason to rue this latest delay.

“I’m in. I don’t have to go through the anxiety ever again of waiting and wondering whether this is the year they let me into the Hall of Fame,” Atwater said. “No, I’m good. This is easy.”

Atwater was a finalist for the hall last year and in 2016 and who has been a semifinalist the past nine years. He played 11 NFL seasons as a safety, including 10 with the Denver Broncos. With the Broncos, Atwater won two Super Bowls, was an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All Pro.

Atwater was selected by the Broncos 20th overall in the first round of the 1989 draft. He started 166 games in his career - he only missed five games as a Bronco - and recorded 1,180 tackles and 24 interceptions.

Johnson was elected as a coach. In his nine pro seasons (five in Dallas, four in Miami), he went 89-68, led the Cowboys to three playoff appearances and two Super Bowl victories, and took the Dolphins to three postseason appearances.

Other men to be inducted in August were: former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol, former New York Giants executive George Young, former coach Bill Cowher, and former players Troy Polamalu, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, Isaac Bruce and Steve Atwater were to be inducted into the hall this August.

“The delay is obviously disappointing but completely understandable,” Tagliabue told The Associated Press. “It’s always a great weekend especially for football fans and family, coaches, colleagues who’ve been critical in our successes. But a big part of the weekend is meeting, greeting, photos and signing autographs for the thousands of fans. Not something that I’d want to do in the coronavirus environment.”

A separate centennial celebration in September would have included the inductions of 10 men selected by a special panel in January. That class includes Harris, Harold Carmichael, Jim Covert, Bobby Dillon, Winston Hill, Alex Karras, Donnie Shell, Duke Slater, Mac Speedie and Ed Sprinkle.

Harris, who grew up in Des Arc and played college football at Ouachita Baptist, will be the eighth Arkansan inducted into the hall. He played 10 seasons as a safety for the Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense” in the 1970s.

In Dallas, Harris won two Super Bowls and four conference championships. He finished his career with 29 interceptions, was voted to six Pro Bowls and was five times All-Pro.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report

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