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Steve Atwater elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

MIAMI — The Smiling Assassin's grin just got a little bit bigger.

Broncos Ring of Fame safety Steve Atwater has finally earned a gold jacket.

Atwater was among the five men selected as Modern-Era Hall of Famers on Saturday in Miami. He joins Edgerrin James, Steve Hutchinson, Isaac Bruce and Troy Polamalu in this year's class.

"This is a great day for Steve, the Broncos and all our fans," President/CEO Joe Ellis said Saturday. "Steve was a dominant safety who changed the game as one of the most-feared players of his generation. With as modest and humble as Steve is, you would never know about all of his Pro Bowls, Super Bowls and many other accolades. He's just an unbelievable ambassador for our team and league. We congratulate Steve on his well-deserved election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I also want to thank and recognize Jeff Legwold and the selection committee as well as our fans, who have been so supportive of Steve's Hall of Fame credentials."

Those five men join 15 others from the Centennial Slate to form this year's 20-person class. Bill Cowher, Jimmy Johnson, Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, George Young, Harold Carmichael, Jim Covert, Bobby Dillon, Cliff Harris, Winston Hill, Alex Karras, Donnie Shell, Duke Slater, Mac Speedie and Ed Sprinkle comprise the Centennial Slate.

Broncos Ring of Fame safety John Lynch must wait at least another year for induction into the Hall. The two-time first-team All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time Hall of Fame finalist fell short of election on Saturday.

Atwater, though, increases the Broncos representation in Canton. The hard-hitting safety made eight Pro Bowls, earned two first-team All-Pro nods and appeared in three Super Bowls during his 11-year career. He was previously named a first-team member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade team.

"[It's] awesome," President of Football Operations/GM John Elway said. "Another Bronco getting in there, and especially a guy like Steve Atwater, who No. 1 is just a champ of a guy, but also now obviously a Hall of Fame football player. [I'm] so thrilled that he got in there, and [he's] another representative for the Broncos. We're getting more deserving guys in there. I'm really thrilled for Steve and his whole family that he was able to get in there."

Only 24 men in NFL history have been selected to at least eight Pro Bowls and started at least three Super Bowls. With Atwater's and Polamalu's election, 22 of the 24 are now members of the Hall of Fame. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the other two, but they are both not yet eligible.

Best known for his punishing hit on Christian Okoye, Atwater changed the nature of the safety position.

"Steve Atwater's a beast, man," Hall of Famer Michael Irvin said Thursday. "Just flat out, he was a beast. And he came up, the way he played safety was the way you play safety. You did not want to get hit by Steve Atwater, man. We all remember the Christian Okoye play. Boom — in his tracks right there. That shows you the kind of hitter he is. Do I believe he's a Hall of Famer? I played against him in college, played against him in the NFL. Absolutely, Steve Atwater belongs with the gold jackets."

Atwater is just the second Broncos defender to be named to the Hall of Fame. Champ Bailey became the first in 2019 when he was inducted as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Broncos are also represented in Canton by John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Shannon Sharpe, Floyd Little, Terrell Davis and Pat Bowlen. Four of the eight have been elected since 2017.

Several other Hall of Famers, including safety Brian Dawkins, also have ties to the Broncos.

Atwater joins Elway, Sharpe and Davis as Hall of Famers from their Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII teams. Zimmerman also played in Super Bowl XXXII.

And while Atwater's place in NFL history was already unquestioned, his bronze bust will soon join the hundreds of other legends in Canton, Ohio.

That's certainly something to smile about.

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