Somewhere along Steve Atwater’s journey, former Denver assistant coach Charlie Waters tagged him with the nickname “Smiling Assassin” and it’s going to follow him to the Hall of Fame and stay there.
The former Arkansas All-American Friday was on The Morning Rush with Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft on ESPN Arkansas and said he wasn’t crazy about it at first but accepted it.
“I like to have a good time even on the field,” Atwater said. “Our defensive backs coach Charlie Waters first told me about it and I thought it was corny then and still do, but it’s all right.”
Each player has a bronze bust of their likeness and Atwater will have some kind of smile on his as each member has some input to how it’s made.
“You have guys with big huge smiles and Ronnie Lott had that scowl,” he said. “I’m going to smile. Not a big cheesy smile, but it fits the ‘Smiling assassin.'”
With the current global health pandemic putting gatherings of large people in question, the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies in August in Canton, Ohio, fall into that category, too. Atwater knows the realities of the situation.
“Ideally would like to be in person,” Atwater said. “But I’ve always been one able to adapt to reality. If we have to do it by Skype or Zoom that’s the way we’ll have to do it. I’d love to have all of us get together and have a great time.
“If we have to push it out a year we have to do that. The big thing is we’re in. If for some reason it can’t happen in this instance it’s quite understandable. A lot of lives have been lost and it would be an issue.”
Atwater still lives in Colorado and works with the Broncos where he made his mark after an Arkansas career that will always be remembered, unfortunately, for a play he wasn’t able to make — a dropped interception that would have given the Hogs an upset win over Miami in 1988.
“That was a rough game,” Atwater said of the 18-16 loss that came on a field goal at the end. “If I’d caught that interception in the end zone they wouldn’t have been able to kick the field goal.”
Other teams like Florida State have given Atwater grief over the dropped interception because they would have jumped past the Hurricanes. in the rankings.
“The whole conference down there was upset with me,” Atwater said, laughing. “I wish I could have that one back. I also had interception in Super Bowl 32 and dropped it.
“Those drops were part of what was keeping me out of the Hall of Fame for awhile, but it doesn’t matter now.”
Through it all, from the time he arrived in Fayetteville to now waiting to be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame, Atwater’s biggest trait hasn’t changed.
“You gotta be a good person first and other things take care of themselves,” he said.