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'I'm hoping we can finally get over the hump this year': Atwater on making Hall of Fame cut to top 25 for ninth time

John Lynch, Simeon Rice other former Broncos who made HOF semifinal 25. Boulder's Boselli also makes cut. But Rod Smith snubbed again.
Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Denver Broncos Steve Atwater (C) and Trevor Pryce (R) celebrate Atwater's interception during the first half of their game against the San Diego Chargers 21 December at Mile High Stadium in Denver, CO. The Broncos won 38-3.

DENVER — Canton’s great tease with two of the Broncos’ all-time best safeties continues.

Both Steve Atwater and John Lynch were among those who made the cut to Pro Football Hall of Fame 25 modern-era semifinalists for the class of 2020.

It’s the ninth consecutive year Atwater has made the top 25. He made it to the final round of 15 twice, including last year.

“I’m hyped up, I really am,’’ Atwater said in a phone conversation with 9NEWS. “I’m hoping we can finally get over the hump this year. It’s been a long wait.’’

Lynch is a top 25 semifinalist for an eighth consecutive year. He’s been top 15 finalist the previous six consecutive years.

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“It’s a good group,’’ Lynch said via text. He added he was in meetings as general manager of the 10-1 49ers. “I know it sounds like a broken record, but I’m honored and humbled to be a part of this group.”

Ten candidates will be cut on Jan. 2 and the top 15 finalists will be up for vote on February 1 in Miami, the eve of Super Bowl LIV.

A potential hurdle for Atwater and Lynch getting in this year is Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu is considered a first-ballot favorite. And as only five modern-era candidates are elected each year, selecting two from the same position reduces the odds. It happens. Both Terrell Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson were running back inductees in 2017 and Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher were middle linebackers in the class of 2018.

Is Atwater concerned about Polamalu’s place on the ballot?

“Not really,’’ he said. “He's deserving as well and if that's the case then so be it. Two corners went in last year, Champ Bailey and Ty Law. If it's going to be, it's going to be. I've been pretty patient here. Kind of biding my time. Getting a little antsy now because I’m getting close to that 25-year mark and you know how that goes.''

Players aren’t eligible for HOF vote until five years after they play their last game. They are HOF ballot-eligible for 20 years – 25 years after retirement – before they are moved to the senior candidate pool. Randy Gradishar and Karl Mecklenburg are widely considered the top Broncos among senior HOF candidates. 

There is hope one will go into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio this year as 10 senior candidates instead of the usual one or two, will be inducted, an expansion that is part of the NFL's 100-season celebration.

Simeon Rice is another player with Broncos ties who was among the top 25 semifinalists. 9News has told this story before but it’s worth repeating: In 2007, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan wanted to sign the pass-rusher Rice as a final piece to his team. Only problem: The Broncos’ budget was extremely tight that year – owner Pat Bowlen always spent to the salary cap – and the team didn’t have the $3 million in cash flow to sign Rice.

So Bowlen took out a loan. It didn’t work out. Rice was washed up. He had 122.0 career sacks but none in six games with the Broncos. Still, it shows how Bowlen spent every last dollar and then some to bring Denver a winner.

Jacksonville left tackle Tony Boselli of Boulder also made the semi 25 for the fifth consecutive year. Boselli has been a top 15 finalist the previous three years.

Among players with Broncos ties who were nominated for the HOF but didn’t make the cut to the semifinal 25: Receiver Rod Smith (who is getting absurdly overlooked), running back Clinton Portis, defensive tackle Chester McGlockton, defensive end Neil Smith and kicker Jason Elam.