Steve Atwater's Enshrinement Ceremony Postponed to 2021 by Pro Football Hall of Fame
Steve Atwater has already waited long enough for his Hall-of-Fame moment. Now, the Denver Broncos' legendary safety will have to be even more patient as the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday its decision to cancel its annual game and postpone the enshrinement ceremony for the 2020 class.
Atwater was one of five modern-day Hall-of-Fame inductees who were due to receive their gold jackets on August 8 in Canton, Ohio. The Hall-of-Fame committee and NFL officials have taken the unprecedented step to move the preseason fixture and festivities to next year due to the effects of the pandemic.
The news comes as a blow to Atwater, and also to former Broncos safety Dennis Smith, who had been given the honor of presenting his former teammate for induction to the ranks of the game’s all-time elite. Smith had previously spoken with the team media site about how humbled he was to have mentored Atwater during his storied playing career and shocked he was to be chosen to introduce him to the Hall.
“I almost passed out when I heard it. I was like, ‘Wow, of all the people he could have chosen.’ I’m so honored that he chose me, because when you reach this level of success, there’s a lot of people you can choose from that helped you get to that level,” Smith said in February.
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases has resulted in the NFLPA advising players to stop holding voluntary group workouts away from team facilities until training camp begins in July. The subsequent shelving of the Hall-of-Fame weekend is bound to send shockwaves through the NFL’s fan base, but especially the long-suffering Broncos fans who had so passionately supported Atwater's claim.
The cancellation represents the first major setback for the NFL and its parteners in television in trying to keep the playing schedule on course for September.
Atwater himself will be more easily equipped to bounce back from the delay due to his affable and easy-going personality. He had gone on record recently to explain his philosophical outlook if the league was forced to take drastic action due to the dangers presented by the coronavirus.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but it’s what we’ve got to deal with,” Atwater told the Denver Post back in April. “And it’s like when we play football: you’re going to get some tough situations, try and stay positive about it. It does make it a little more bearable if we’re positive [rather than] where it’s woe me, looking at the worst things that can happen.”
The liberal use of common sense will also allow Atwater’s family, friends, and fans to attend his special day free of health concerns or safety fears. Therefore, the delay should be viewed as an acceptable solution at present, especially when you consider a behind-closed-door ceremony or a virtual presentation were the only options being discussed by Hall-of-Fame President David Baker and his committee.
The decision to cancel was clearly focused on letting the fans know in advance and to avoid financial setbacks for those who'd planned to attend the event in-person. Atwater can further polish his speech and re-book his family's travel arrangements for next year.
This offseason NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been relentless in his effort to keep league events firmly on track as much as possible. To that end, Goodell has had considerable success, with a lauded virtual NFL Draft process going off without a hitch and drawing phenomenal TV ratings, while virtual offseason training programs were fully adopted by coaches and players.
Broncos Country has been forced to be patient over the years to see its heroes get their rightful place in the Hall, so fans will should be able to absorb the disappointment with good humor. To further cushion the blow, it’s very likely that former Broncos QB Peyton Manning will also be receiving his gold jacket at next year's expanded ceremony as a sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Combined with Atwater's enshrinement, those future events will really be something for all Broncos fans to look forward to in 2021 and maybe even more reason to book a trip in advance for the big party.