Steve Atwater learned in his final season in the NFL that you really can’t go home again. At least not if you’re wearing the wrong color jersey.
After 10 seasons in Denver, during which he was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and won two Super Bowls in three tries, Atwater was told the team was going in another direction. It was a message he received at a most difficult moment, as he explains in the final installment of this week’s Talk of Fame Network “5 Games’’ podcast.
“I knew it because there were so many messages (from his agent),’’ Atwater recalled of the day he sat in a parking lot outside his grandmother’s funeral in Mississippi talking with Broncos’ head coach Mike Shanahan about the end of his time in Denver.
“It was raining outside. I understood. It’s a business. It went as smoothly as it could go.’’
What did not was the day he returned to Denver for the first time some months later, in the uniform of the New York Jets.
On October 3, 1999, both the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos and rebuilding Jets were struggling franchises, one on the way up and the other on the way down. Denver had opened the season 0-3. John Elway was now retired. Steve Atwater was gone. And that game the end for all intents and purposes would also come for Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis.
It was a day of deep sadness for Atwater and a reminder that where he really belonged was not New York, even though his year with the Jets was another learning experience.
“I’d never been in the visitors’ locker room at Mile High (Stadium),’’ Atwater remembered of returning to Denver a Jet. “Tears started streaming down my face. It was a sad moment. It felt like I’d been kidnapped.’’
That sadness only deepened after Davis went down with the knee injury that would cut short his career. Davis would never be the same after that game and, in a different way, neither would Steve Atwater.
To hear the full story of that difficult day and what he learned from a season playing for Bill Parcells in New York, click on one of the links below to listen to our free podcast. You can also subscribe to receive all Talk of Fame’s “5 Games’’ podcasts directly to you.