They’re revered in Broncos country for their ferocious shots and game-changing picks, but what ties Hall of Famer Steve Atwater and Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons together is the invisible hand of the late Aunt Gertha.
“Aunt Gertha was my favorite. She did so much for me when I was a kid,” Atwater told me. “Aunt Gertha taught me, ‘Do what you can, wherever you are. If you can make an impact, big or small, on someone’s life, do it.
So what does Aunt Gertha have to do with football?
In this painful season for the Broncos, you can feel the generosity of Gertha’s heart in every Atwater smile as he regularly mingle with current players at team headquarters, occasionally offering advice to Simmons, caught under his wing as a protege.
“Calm my eyes,” Simmons said, revealing a secret to being a big security he learned under Atwater’s tutelage.
As a young NFL player, Simmons stood in high school and was overwhelmed with all the data his hyperactive eyes were trying to process before the snap that he was missing vital little keys that could allow him to become one of the league ball peddlers. securities.
Recognizing an undeniable talent, Atwater humbly approached Simmons and offered suggestions that always began with these words: “Not that I know everything, but here is what I did…”
Simmons did more than take copious notes. He etched Atwater’s advice into his brain. “It’s not that a Hall of Famer knows football, or anything like that,” joked Simmons, one of the few truly bright stars amid those dark days for the franchise.
What shouldn’t be lost amid Denver’s 3-9 record angst is the sense of urgency Simmons and Atwater feel to get things back on track in Broncos Country. They’re not just two of the best players to ever wear a Denver uniform, but two of the kindest, big-hearted men.
“As a safety, you’re the last line of defense,” said Atwater, whose current role with the Broncos has a much more positive impact than his official duties as fan development manager. “Knowing that if the attack gets past you, it’s over, and making sure it doesn’t happen again too often is what makes security so rewarding.”
A security’s job is more than the last line of defense in Broncos Country. It’s a legacy, nurtured and sustained by the excellence of the men who served in Denver, from Goose Gonsoulin to Billy Thompson to Dennis Smith, who passed the torch to Atwater, John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, TJ Ward and Simmons.
Long before he was drafted by the Broncos in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Simmons heard stories from his father, Victor, about Atwater being the smiling assassin. With two interceptions against the Ravens in a 10-9 loss at Baltimore, Simmons tied one of dad’s favorite players with 24 career picks.
“Any time you’re in the same sentence as a Hall of Famer like Steve, obviously there’s praise there. It’s really cool,” said Simmons, who never needs prompting. to thank for Atwater’s mentorship.
“He meant so much to me and my growth. Not just as a player, but also as a man, as a professional, as a husband. Just the little treats he gives me every time we step off the pitch or after I see him after a game, after a win or even after a loss. He’s been such a mainstay in my life since I got here and got drafted. I can’t be more grateful for him.
Atwater is eternally grateful for all the little pro football nuances he learned from Smith when he joined the Broncos as a first-round pick out of Arkansas in 1989. Long before winning two Super Bowl rings in Denver, Atwater learned the art of paying it. like a child wrapped in the warmth of Aunt Gertha’s hugs. As a three-time Walter Payton Award nominee in recognition of his community service, Simmons makes Atwater proud far beyond exploits on the football field.
“If you have something valuable to give and you don’t share it,” Atwater said, “you’re the one who’s really missing out on what matters in life.”
Here’s the bet that Gertha would see more than a little of her nephew in Simmons. Broncos Country basks in the warmth of light shared by two good men who play football for a living.