Steve Atwater may have to wait a little longer to secure his spot in football immortality but the legendary Broncos safety is more than content with that reality.
Atwater, who received the long-awaited good news in February, was set to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August as part of an illustrious 10-person class until the NFL cancelled this year's ceremony due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While speaking with NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport during a recent appearance on the RapSheet + Friends Podcast, Atwater was asked for his thoughts on having to wait until 2021 to be enshrined. Atwater, who's waited 16 years to enter Canton, expressed his relief regarding the decision and optimism for next year's festivities.
"I definitely am excited, first off, to have gotten voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and all that good stuff. And to be honest with you, with everything that's going on, I'm actually happy that it was moved because my dad, he's in his mid-80s and I know that if we would've had it this year that he wouldn't have come," Atwater said. "So, I'm hoping that next year everything will be fine and we'll be able to proceed as planned. I think a lot of people like it, there are a lot of Hall of Famers that are up there in age, too, and there's a good chance that they may not have made it to the event this year, as well. So, I think next year will be much better, of course, that's if we have a vaccine, which I'm hoping for and everyone else is, too."
A semi-finalist in 2012 and finalist in 2016 and 2020 -- the year his well-deserved selection was announced -- Atwater is one of the most storied players in Broncos history. The former hard-hitting defensive back was a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams and made eight Pro Bowls over the course of his 10 seasons in Denver. He was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Honor in 2005.
As someone who has kept his finger on the pulse of the organization long after his playing days, Atwater, the team's Fan Development Manager since 2017, is well aware of the players who play on the side of the ball he once dominated. One of those talents is safety Justin Simmons, who Rapoport noted is a mentee of Atwater's.
Simmons recently agreed to play on the franchise tag in 2020 after being unable to come to terms on a long-term agreement with the club. A second-team All-Pro selection in 2019, Simmons racked up 93 tackles and career highs in interceptions (4) and pass deflections (15) in what proved to be a breakout year for the young DB.
Despite the optics of the current situation, Atwater emphasized everyone in the franchise wants Simmons to stay around and sees the 26-year-old as a key piece for the future.
"He is an amazing young man. Man, he's smart, he's fast, he has great hands, and he's got great heart. He's kind of like the quarterback of the defense," Atwater said of Simmons. "When you see the team out there playing, he's the one out there making the adjustments. He's been durable, he's played just about every snap over the last couple of years, and I think really the sky's the limit for him. I think he's a perfect fit for this Vic Fangio defense and I'm looking for more great things out of Justin."
If anybody is going to have an eye for talent, it would be someone with a background like the future HOFer. Atwater's endorsement provides Simmons with a noteworthy vote of confidence as he looks to turn in another stellar campaign and earn a big deal next summer.