Steve Atwater has been a Hall of Fame finalist once since he became eligible for Canton in 2005.
But listeners and readers of the Talk of Fame Network believe Atwater not only needs to get back into the room, he needs to get elected to the Hall. In last week’s poll, we asked our followers to vote on the best Bronco not in the Hall and Atwater edged inside linebacker Randy Gradishar for the honor. Atwater received 40.1 percent with Gradishar at 37.4 percent.
Inside linebacker Karl Mecklenburg finished a distant third with 8.6 percent of the vote. Gradishar was a Denver standout in the 1970s, Mecklenburg in the 1980s and Atwater the 1990s.
Atwater was a first-team NFL all-decade selection for the 1990s and the thumper on a defense that helped the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Atwater was voted to eight Pro Bowls and was a two-time first-team all-pro. A former first-round draft pick, Atwater collected 1,356 and 24 interceptions in his 10-year career.
As usual, the three Talk of Fame Network hosts were split in their opinions. Ron Borges voted Atwater and both Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge went with Gradishar.
“This depends on if you like your tacklers on the top of the pile or the bottom,” Borges said. “I favor Karl Mecklenberg but for this discussion I'll go with Atwater. He was a prototypical safety of his day and one of the best. Thunderous hitter whose presence reduced traffic in the middle.”
Gradishar was the 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense. He played 10 seasons and went to seven Pro Bowls. Gradishar was a member of Ohio State’s all-century team and his college coach Woody Hayes called him, “the finest linebacker I ever coached.” He collected 200 or more tackles in six of his 10 NFL seasons and played in one Super Bowl.
"Gradishar not only was a tackling machine and Defensive Player of the Year, he went to more Pro Bowls (7) for a MLB not yet enshrined and did it when Pro Bowls meant something," Judge said. "Never understood why voters don’t have an Orange Crush on someone who made tackles like McDonald’s does burgers ... with billions and billions of them."