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Published on 05/29/2012 at Tue May 29 12:00.
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Steve Atwater Destroy Christian Okoye's Manhood

Once again we return to the early 1990’s for another huge moment in my adolescent fanhood of the Denver Broncos.  This one came in the regular season and helped ensure I would idolize Steve Atwater for the rest of his career. Naturally, we are talking about Atwater blowing up Kansas City Chiefs fullback, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye.

The play put Atwater on the map, since it occurred on Monday Night Football and the entire nation was watching.

Situation: Monday Night Football, Week 2 of the 1990 season.

The Play: At the time, Okoye was one of the most feared fullbacks in the league with a reputation as being unstoppable.  Steve Atwater stole Okoye’s man card and proceeded to charge it up for another 10 seasons.

Some of you may question why this play ranks so low on my list, but the fact is, this play did not achieve much in the grand scheme of things.  The Broncos won the game, but would end up losing 11 that year.  The play turned out to be the highlight of the entire season – that’s bad when its a play on first down in Week 2 of the season.  However, the play was still a fantastic and memorable play and deserving of a Top 5 placement.

Aside from Randy Gradishar, Atwater is probably the biggest Denver Broncos defensive snub to the Hall of Fame.  I do not see how he could have done much more to earn that recognition (other than playing for the Cowboys or Steelers…), but those of us who watched him know he was one of the top 2 dominating safeties of the game throughout the entire decade of the 1990’s.

The best quality video I could find on YouTube is at around the :50 second mark below:

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  • 42n8

    Tackling seems to be a lost art these daays.  Maybe del Rio can just gather his D around him, plunk in an Atwater highlight reel and walk away. I don’t know how Lott can be in the HOF and not Awwater … 

  • Tom9798

    Tim . . . Thanks! . . . doesn’t matter where it falls on the list . . . just so sweet for #27.

  • Duane Grasmick

    Awesome, just Awesome….Atwater was the best

  • Tom9798

    Tim . . . had to throw this out there for #27.

    In Super Bowl XXXII, he posted one of the better performances by a safety in a Super Bowl and one of the greatest games of his career.

    In that game, he is credited with six solo tackles, one sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.

    His presence near the line of scrimmage kept Green Bay’s running game in check. His sack and forced fumble resulted in three critical points in the second quarter when the Broncos offense had stalled without star running back Terrell Davis.

    Near the end of the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 24 and Green Bay had the ball on a third down with eight yards to go for a first down.

    Atwater knocked down a critical pass on a blitz where the receiver was left wide open, forcing the Packers to punt. Then on Green Bay’s final drive, Atwater’s vicious hit (which nearly knocked out two players, a Packers player and a Broncos player) with less than a minute remaining left the Packers in 4th and 6 situation without any remaining timeouts, due to NFL rules regarding injuries to players in the final two minutes of a game.

    Many argued that Atwater should have been the MVP of the game and the ensuing article in The Sporting News pictured Atwater and noted the impact of his hits on the game.

    Super Bowl XXXII was Atwater’s last great game, and 1997 his last great season. In 1998, he was relegated to only playing on 1st and 2nd downs and replaced on 3rd downs.

    Nevertheless, because of the viewership of the Super Bowl from the previous year, he was voted as an AFC Pro Bowl starter for an eighth and final time.

    Following the Pro Bowl voting, the Denver Post noted that Atwater’s selection to the Pro Bowl was due to his play in the previous year’s Super Bowl. Denver went on to win the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year, marking Super Bowl XXXIII as Atwater’s final game with the Denver Broncos.

  • jdkchem

    Like I said in the other thread.  All people remember about Okoye is that he got his ticket punched by Atwater.  Probably the only time that a career was ended without an injury, physical anyway.

  • Tom9798

    Tim . . . and by the way you stated, ” this play did not achieve much in the grand scheme of things.”

    Over 1,000 tackles, eight Pro-Bowl’s, two Super-Bowl rings . . .

    this play might have been the moment for the grand scheme of things.

  • Tim Lynch

    I think Atwater was screwed in 1998 – no way the guys on the field on 3rd down were better than him.  Shanny was great at retarding the defense at times.  I digress – thank you for the great memories!  I will also remember that knockout play near the end of the game in Super Bowl 32

  • Tim Lynch

    Good point!  I have a feeling Atwater was going to be great regardless though.  Some guys just have “it” in a non-Tebow kind of way. :P

  • Big_Pete

    Greatest Broncos Defensive Plays my ass….. This is one of THE Greatest Defensive Plays EVER!!! The Smiling Assassin… He needs in the HOF ASAP


     I recall that play in real time and could not believe the sound of the hit!  Atwater deserves to be in the HOF!

  • fiercepika

    Atwater’s hard hitting in Super Bowl 32 is what kept my spirits up.  Even on that opening drive, things looked grim and just as predicted by the arrogant sports yak jerks, but I could see how hard they came out, and even when he was beaten on the play, Atwater was RIGHT THERE smacking people around.  I saw that and was like, “Hey, that’s okay, our boys came to play!”  I can’t help but think it had the same impact on the rest of the team.

    He remains my favorite all time defensive player, and he needs to be in the HOF, moreso than T.D.

  • Josh Temple

    If Terrell Davis didn’t put the offense on his back that entire game I would say Atwater deserved MVP.  It was amazing how many of our guys completely raised their level of play for that game.  The Packers were the more dangerous team but Denver showed up to win and saved their best play for the last game of the year.

  • Tom9798

    Josh, I often get Atwater confused in my memory with Dennis Smith.  I didn’t think anybody could hit as hard or would be able to replace him. 
    The Broncos have had the greatest safeties in the history of the game. 
    The only view I could get of Smith, hope it comes though.

    Dennis Smith established himself as one of the most feared and hardest hitting safeties in the NFL (a reputation later held by his protégé, Steve Atwater).
    Smith was voted to play in six Pro Bowls (following the 1985-1986, 1989–1991 and 1993 seasons), was named All-AFC in 1984 and 1988 and played on three Broncos Super Bowl teams (XXI, XXII, XXIV), and was named All-Pro 4 times.
    Smith’s career totals include 1,171 tackles, 30 interceptions and 15 sacks. He posted a career- high five interceptions in 1991.