Steve Atwater on Hall postponement: "The right thing to do, and I'm all for it"
Former Denver safety Steve Atwater waited 21 years to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, five in retirement and 16 as a candidate.
Now he’ll have to wait one more.
That's because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Hall on Thursday to postpone all events for this year’s Enshrinement Week – including its preseason game and induction – to August, 2021. At that time, all members of the Class of 2020 – including Atwater – will be honored with the Class of 2021.
Disappointing? Maybe to some. But not to Steve Atwater.
“It’s no big deal at all,” he said. “I think it’s the smart thing; the most reasonable thing that can be done. Everyone wants the event this year, but this virus this year a lot of Hall of Famers – including myself – are getting up age, and there are a lot of guys who don’t want to take any chances.
“Take my Dad, for instance. He’s in his mid-80s, and I doubt that he would come this year. So I’m glad they made this decision. It’s the right thing to do right now, and I’m all for it.”
With the postponement, the Canton stage will be crowded in August, 2021. There will be five modern-era players from the Class of 2020, including Atwater, and, in all likelihood, three members of the Centennial Class – former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and coaches Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson.
All were scheduled to be honored this August.
But remember: All events from this year’s Enshrinement Week have been rescheduled for Aug. 5-8, 2021, including the Dallas-Pittsburgh preseason game. Combine that with all events for members of the Class of 2021 – which could include five modern-era players and three seniors and contributors – and you have the possibility of a logistical nightmare waiting to happen.
And then there's the Centennial Class of 2020.
According to a Hall-of-Fame spokesman, the tentative plan is to accomodate all groups the weekend of Aug. 7-8, 2021, with the entire Class of 2020 -- including the 15 members of the Centennial Class -- honored Saturday, Aug. 7, and the Class of 2021 inducted the following day.
“I think our time for speeches is going to be limited,” said Atwater, laughing. “Next year instead of ten minutes we might have five. But in the big scheme of things, all of that is small stuff. The most important thing is keeping everybody safe right now. I’m mentally relieved about the decision.”
In an era of negativity, Atwater’s attitude is as welcome as it is rare. A first-team 1990s' all-decade choice, he waited 12 years before he was mentioned as a Hall-of-Fame finalist and then three more before he was finalist again. That was 2019 when he made a surprising jump to the final 10, setting the stage for his election in February.
Atwater was chosen to a class that includes Troy Polamalu, Isaac Bruce, Steve Hutchinson and Edgerrin James – all of whom join him now on an unexpected summer vacation.
“There’s no use getting upset about it and getting angry,” Atwater said of the postponement. “I’ve never had that mindset. We’ve just got to deal with it and find a way to get through it mentally and physically. That’s the way I’ve always been. We’re going to have a big celebration next year, and we’re going to have twice the fun.”