Steve Atwater’s first trip to the Super Bowl became what he told Talk of Fame Network was the worst moment of his career. His return eight years later was arguably the highlight.
In today’s third installment of TOFN’s “5 Games’’ podcast, the ex-Denver Broncos’ All-Decade safety recalls Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos January 25, 1998 showdown with the defending champion Green Bay Packers.
Unlike their stunning 55-10 loss to Joe Montana and the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV, the Broncos were not surprise arrivals at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The Broncos were in their third season under head coach Mike Shanahan and had gone 13-3 the previous year before being upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs’ divisional round. Unbowed by that loss, Denver came back to go 12-4 and marched through the post-season, crushing the Jaguars in a playoff rematch after this time entering the post-season as a wildcard team rather than divisional champions.
They then won close games with the Chiefs and Steelers before facing Brett Favre and the Packers, who were favored to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Not that that mattered to Atwater.
“I was a lot more mature, a much smarter player,’’ Atwater says on today’s podcast when asked to compare him that day to the rookie he’d been starting in Super Bowl XXIV. “We’d gotten our swag back. We were very confident. Once we got to San Diego we knew what was coming…we knew what we were doing.’’
What Atwater was doing that day was dominating the game defensively. On football’s biggest stage, Atwater played perhaps his greatest game, making six tackles, a sack, forcing a critical fumble and defending two passes. Of all the plays he made that day the most critical came late in the fourth quarter. With the game tied, 24-24. Atwater knocked down a Favre third-down pass on a blitz with Favre’s intended receiver wide open behind Denver’s defense. That forced a punt that led to Terrell Davis’ third touchdown run which proved to be the game winner but Atwater wasn’t yet finished impacting the game.
After the Packers drove back to the Denver 31, he unloaded on a third-down pass intended for Robert Brooks, knocking Brooks, Denver defender Randy Hilliard and himself out of the game with 32 seconds remaining. When Favre’s final throw fell incomplete Steve Atwater had reached his boyhood dream of becoming a Super Bowl champion.
To hear all of Steve Atwater’s recollections of the biggest game of his life and the feeling he had after finally reaching his goal of bringing Denver its first Super Bowl championship just click either of the links below.