Steve Atwater was one of the most feared defenders in NFL History.
From 1989-1999, Atwater terrorized the defensive backfield. He hit RBs and WRs harder than most trucks. In 1990, he led the Denver Broncos in tackles, taking down 173 opposing players. He was an 8-time Pro Bowler, earning 1st team All Pro honors in 1991 and 1992. His violent, quick, and fearless play helped guide Denver to wins in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. That a bust of “The Smiling Assassin” isn’t yet in Canton borders on criminal.
Atwater, however, is perhaps most famous for a monster hit delivered against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, September 17, 1990: (click on the image if the .gif fails to load)
Yup, that’s Atwater absolutely destroying Tecmo legend Christian Okoye. Steve Atwater met 250 pounds of Nigerian Nightmare (running full speed) and knocked Okoye backwards. BACKWARDS! With that kind of power, you’d think Atwater would be an absolute beast in NES’s Tecmo Super Bowl.
You’d be wrong.
Steve Atwater isn’t a good Tecmo defender. He’s not even an average defender. Out of 112 Tecmo Defensive Backs, Atwater ranks a pathetic 80. Three out of every four TSB DBs rank ahead of him. Steve Atwater should call the cops, because he got straight-up robbed by Tecmo programmers.
The only thing TSB programmers didn’t eff up is Atwater’s 69 Hitting Power. Only Cincinnati DB David Fulcher, who scores a punishing 75 HP, can hit harder than Steve Atwater. Atwater’s ability to knock Okoye backwards should earn him ∞+1 Hitting Power, but sadly, the NES Processor can’t handle that kind of data.
Atwater’s speed stats are where Tecmo veers from reality. His starting speed of 31, acceleration of 38 and 50 max speed are the Tecmo equivalent of quinoa salad: bland and unexciting. As the above .gif shows, even COM Offensive Lineman can outpace Atwater. Why so slow? It’s a case of perception vs. reality. Coming into the NFL, the knock against Atwater was a lack of foot speed. He ran a whelming 4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
As is often the case, running in shorts and a shirt doesn’t quite translate to hunting Christian Okoye in pads and a helmet. Atwater’s perceived slowness simply didn’t matter on the NFL field. Before drafting Steve Atwater, Denver’s defense ranked 27th against the run. Atwater’s stellar Rookie play helped raise Denver to 7th against the run. They went from an 8-8 also-ran to an 11-5 Super Bowl team in 1989. Steve Atwater’s 40-yard dash time simply doesn’t matter. He had speed to spare in terrorizing opposing offenses.
The biggest crime on Atwater’s stat sheet, though, is his paltry 31 Pass Interceptions score. He sits almost dead last in the category, above only Seattle’s Nesby Glasgo and Philadelphia’s Andre Waters. Why Tecmo programmers gave Atwater such a putrid interception rating is a puzzle on the scale of Fermat’s Last Theorem and If Han Shot First.
Atwater was drafted 20th overall in the 1989 Draft by Denver precisely because of his reputation as a ball hawk. In the East-West Shrine Game following his senior season at Arkansas, Atwater rose up NFL big boards by picking off 2 passes and winning the game’s Defensive MVP award. Even with Denver Defensive Coordinator Wade Davis using Atwater almost like an extra Linebacker, the Smiling Assassin still notched three more interceptions during his Rookie season.
Most Tecmo Super Bowl defenders receive a 31 interception score because they snagged exactly zero interceptions in 1989. Those, like Atwater, who notched 1-4 picks, generally score a 50. However, as Atwater gained notoriety out of college because of his deadly power and sure hands, it’s fair to say he should be bumped up at least to 56 for Pass Interceptions. At least.
So fixing his speed and the absolute crime that is his interceptions score, Steve Atwater’s corrected stat sheet looks something like this:
Tecmo eventually saw the error of their ways. By 1994’s Tecmo Super Bowl for SNES, programmers upped his speed and interceptions ratings. Given his proper attributes, Steve Atwater jumps from one of the worst defensive players in Tecmo Super Bowl to a beast alongside Wayne Haddix and David Fulcher.
 It should be noted the NFL didn’t officially count tackles until the 1994 season. Prior to 94, tackle totals come from unofficial team counts, in this case, the Denver Broncos.
 It seems only a matter of time before Atwater gets in the Hall. A semi-finalist from 2012 – 2015, only loaded ballots including the likes of Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, et. al. seems to have kept him thus far left out.
 Records conflict as to Atwater’s 40 time. The Orlando Sentinel reported a 4.68 time at the NFL Combine. However, Atwater apparently ran privately for Denver Scouts, running either a 4.44 or 4.45. The time itself is slightly irrelevant, as the 1989 Draft’s top DB, Louis Oliver, ran a 4.35. 4.68 or 4.45, the point remained that Atwater was slower than Oliver. Louis Oliver, for the curious, was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and is the #21 overall DB in Tecmo Super Bowl
 Most of the stats in TSB were based off the 1989 season. Rosters and stats were finalized sometime during Fall/Winter of 1990–perhaps in mid-September–so only a few games of 1990 were taken into account..