Many NFL players are remembered for a single play. Few are remembered for a single tackle. Steve Atwater is one of those few.
In the second installment of this week’s Talk of Fame Network “5 Games’’ podcast, Atwater retells the story of the night he collided violently with a man known as “The Nigerian Nightmare,’’ 260-pound Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Christian Okoye. It was a collision still remembered as one of the signature moments on “Monday Night Football’’ and a play football fans have watched on You Tube over a million times over the nearly three decades since it happened.
Okoye had rushed for 1,480 yards the previous season, most of that yardage having come by trampling over wary defenders. Because of that reputation, Atwater and teammate Dennis Smith decided in the week leading up to this confrontation that there was only one way to hit a Nigerian Nightmare.
“Dennis and I watched a ton of film (of Okoye),’’ Atwater recalls. “Dennis said we had to hit him straight up. Don’t go low. Either he’d run us over or we’d get a good hit on him.’’
Early in the game, Atwater’s chance came on a first down run. Okoye barreled into the line and Atwater flew straight up to meet him. The shocking result was one neither Okoye expected nor Broncos’ fans have ever forgotten. It was the sight of The Nigerian Nightmare flying backwards onto is back as Atwater stood over him.
Even a big-time hitter like San Diego Chargers’ special teams legend Hank Bauer has always wondered one thing about that play. Were Atwater’s eyes open or closed when he crashed into Okoye and produced the most memorable collision in “Monday Night Football’’ history?
“That’s a good question,’’ Atwater said. “I don’t know but I’d imagine so. If they were open they probably would have popped out of my head!’’
Atwater also remembers not only that memorable hit but also the crushing fall he and the Broncos felt in 1990. One year after losing Super Bowl XXIV by one of the widest margins in the game’s history to the 49ers, the Broncos fell apart, posting a 5-11 record.
In his rookie season, Atwater led a defense that was first in the league in fewest points allowed. A year later it had slid to 20th. Was this the result of a Super Bowl hangover?
You can listen to Steve Atwater’s opinion on that, on the Broncos collapse that season and on his rise to the first of eight Pro Bowl appearances. You’ll also come to understand what a hit like the one he put on Christian Okoye really feels like by clicking on either the VokalNow or iTunes links below to download our free “5 Games’’ podcast. If you subscribe you can receive all our podcasts in your podcast receiver each week.