Steve Atwater’s second straight appearance in the Super Bowl on January 31, 1999 should have been a moment of triumph. Instead it was a stinging farewell.
In today’s Talk of Fame Network “5 Games’’ podcast, the Broncos’ former All-Decade safety recalls the joy of winning his second straight Super Bowl ring and the bittersweet nature of knowing it had come in very likely his last game as a Bronco.
“They let me know early on, rather than being a surprise at the end of the year…this was going to be my last year (in Denver),’’ Atwater tells our podcast listeners when discussing the personal difficulties of that season in the midst of another year of team success.
In his 10th season in Denver, Atwater would be named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time but the Broncos’ coaching staff still believed it was time for a change in the secondary. For much of that year, Atwater was limited to playing on first and second down and often outside the box, where he had averaged 104 tackles a season in the previous eight years. In 1998 he would make only 43 tackles and entered Super Bowl XXXIII against the upstart Atlanta Falcons feeling rather odd.
“My goal used to be to have 10 tackles by halftime,’’ Atwater explained. “I’d have games where I wouldn’t have any tackles. My uniform would be clean. It didn’t feel good. My role was diminished but I was still happy to be part of the team.’’
That team demolished the “Dirty Birds,’’ as the Falcons had come to be known, shutting down running back Jamal Anderson, who had carried 410 times that season and rushed for over 100 yards in nine of the Falcons final 11 games before literally running into Atwater. Anderson did not gain 100 that day in what became a surprisingly easy 34-19 Broncos’ victory. But that wasn’t the biggest shock.
The biggest shock came the night before the game with the news that Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson had been arrested near the team’s hotel for soliciting a prostitute only hours after receiving the Bart Starr Award given annually to the player who best exemplifies outstanding character on and off the field.
“We just couldn’t believe that happened,’’ Atwater recalled. “We wondered how he got out of his room. We were on lockdown.’’
Robinson started the next evening for the Falcons in his customary position but Atwater believes that event had a crushing effect on the Falcons. To hear the full story of that season, that game and how Atwater felt walking off the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami for the last time as a Bronco just click one of the links below to hear our free podcast. You can also subscribe to all our podcasts using either link.