Despite the election of running back Terrell Davis to the Class of 2017, the Denver Broncos remain woefully under represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are five who played significant portions of their careers with Denver … or three fewer than there are Super Bowl appearances by the Broncos.
And that makes no sense.
Don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t. Neither can the other 47 other Hall-of-Fame voters. There are qualified Broncos out there – with former players Karl Mecklenburg, Steve Atwater, Randy Gradishar, Lionel Taylor and Louis Wright, as well as former coach Dan Reeves, at the head of the class — but no one outside of Davis can get a sniff.
Granted, there have been three modern-era Broncos (Gary Zimmerman, Shannon Sharpe and Davis) inducted since John Elway was a first-ballot choice in 2004, but there were none before that (Floyd Little was a senior choice in 2010). You heard me. Zippety-do-dah. Davis wasn’t exactly a favorite two weeks ago to break the Denver curse — not with a career cut short by injury — but he did, and, at the Talk of Fame Network, we thought that should count for something.
In fact, we thought it should give Davis — not selectors — a chance to nominate the next Hall-of-Fame inductee. So, when we spoke to him this week, we offered Davis a free Hall pass to give anyone who’s not in there; essentially, to get his take on what player or coach he thinks belongs in Canton who isn’t already there.
“One free pass?” he asked.
“Steve Atwater,” he said.
I know what he meant to our team. I know what he meant to me.
I argued for his inclusion a year ago when he was one of 15 finalists for Canton, citing his record as one of the top safeties of his era. Unfortunately, Atwater did not reach the final 10 and, one year later, didn’t qualify as a finalist – a sign that his candidacy may be headed for the Great Beyond, otherwise known as the deep end of the senior pool.
But maybe, just maybe, the election of senior candidate Kenny Easley – who, like Atwater, was an all-decade safety and a big hitter – offers a glimmer of hope for the former Denver star, who checked all the boxes necessary to qualify for Canton.
He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champ and first-team all-decade choice. Yet he’s been a finalist only once, and even then his candidacy had an all-too-short shelf life.
Former safety Darren Woodson has spoken up on Atwater’s behalf, saying that he, too, would choose him for the Hall “because of the fear that he brought to the table that changed the game.” Rewind Atwater’s bone-rattling hit on Christian Okoye on Monday Night TV, and maybe then you can understand what Woodson was talking about.
But Davis played with him, not against him, and he offers a unique perspective into the guy — making a push that I would hope at least keeps Atwater’s candidacy alive.
“Playing with the guy,” Davis said, “I know what he meant to our team. I know what he meant to me. And Steve was the one who helped me become a pro, and he helped me with so many little things.
“He would watch me when we would have a team period, and he would come up to me after the period and say, ‘Hey, T.D., I knew you guys were going to run that play,’ and he would tell me why. And he’d tell me about my eye discipline and some of my alignments … and things like that that helped me out; a lot of these little things that he taught me.
“And he was a helluva player, too. So I’m pushing for Steve Atwater. If I have any control … I don’t know what I can do … but I certainly want to put his name up there so that, hopefully, he gets in soon.”
It won’t be easy. Safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch are already ahead of him, with Ed Reed eligible for the Class of 2019 and Troy Polamalu on the ballot in 2020. But Steve Atwater demands to be recognized, and here’s hoping he overcomes the odds Terrell Davis did and one day reaches Canton.
Because Terrell Davis is right. Steve Atwater belongs.