Rookie Cards of Steve Atwater, A “Junk Wax Era” Smiling Assassin- Explained

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With the 20th pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected Safety, Steve Atwater out of the University of Arkansas. At the peak of the “Junk Wax Era,” he has only three official rookie cards with zero parallels.

The Position of Steve Atwater

Steve Atwater played the position of Free Safety. The position of Safety is played by a member of the defense. They line up ten to fifteen yards from the line of scrimmage and they can play as linebackers or deep as normal safeties depending on the defensive scheme. The responsibility of a Safety usually involves passing coverage towards the middle and the sidelines of the field.

The Safeties are the last line of defense; they are expected to be reliable tacklers and are given the freedom to move in and out of the secondary and deliver the hit. That’s exactly what Steve Atwater did, deliver hits.

The Reputation of Steve Atwater 

When it came to tackling Steve Atwater had a blatant disregard for his own well being. His reputation was he hits so hard he causes snot bubbles when tackling opponents. He was all in and his violent tackles made for some memorable NFL moments.

Unnecessary roughness was common language to Atwater, he didn’t get a facemask penalty because his pinky swiped his opponent’s helmet, no sir, he would grab the facemask with purpose and spin his opponent to the ground. I mean if you’re going to give a penalty might as well make it a good one, right?

Teammate Terrell Davis says Steve Atwater would give him offensive advice. If Terrell was tipping off the opposing defense Steve would educate him. He would give his defensive perspective, he was a veteran leader in that respect.

No. 83, NFL 100 Greatest Plays

A documented play sealed in NFL History belongs to Steve Atwater. Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye was a force to be reckoned with, people couldn’t tackle The Nigerian Nightmare. That is until he played a game against Atwater and the Broncos.

Okoye ran the ball up the middle, and a couple of yards past the line of scrimmage, he was hit by Atwater that caused Okoye to bend backward. The impact of that tackle was so hard it can be heard and felt even to this day. Atwater stood up and screamed “Stay Down!” to accentuate his dominance.

Career Accomplishments and Stats of Steve Atwater

Accomplishments: 8x Pro Ball | 2x All-Pro | 2x Super Bowl Champion

Stats: Games 167 | 24 Interceptions | Yards 408 | Tackles 1188 (36th)

Overall, the testimony of those who knew him best was he was a great guy to get along with always smiling, always friendly that is until he put the shoulder pads on. That’s why he’s nicknamed The Smiling Assassin.

The Term “Junk Wax Era” Amplified

I’m old school but I’m also open-minded to change so long as it’s logical. But what rubs my fur the opposite way is the term, “Junk Wax Era” (1986-1993) I find it disrespectful, especially when someone younger says it. You weren’t involved in the hobby back then how can you make such a statement!?

Our modern-day cards are an evolution of that era. Just because there were no Silver Prizm, on-card autograph, serial-numbered to /99 doesn’t mean it’s ALL junk! [emphasis mine] Fun Fact: on-card autograph’s made their debut in the hobby in 1991, at the peak of the Junk Wax Era.

I think it is logical to say it was a “Mass Produced Era” that would make more sense but to refer to it as junk? C’mon, Man!

Hypothetically Speaking

Imagine if you will, it’s the year 2046. There is a person born in the year 2025 and they now refer to ALL [emphasis mine] sports cards from the 2020s to be “Hype Era” or the “Don’t Believe the Hype Era” the term is catchy and it goes viral on the 1,812 social media platforms available and walla, a mindset is born.

Likewise, I guess, what I’m asking you to do is put yourself in someone else’s shoes and realize that it won’t be long and you’ll be wearing those same shoes. Please don’t think I’m an old Fuddy Duddy, I love the new stuff, I collect modern-day players too!

The truth about the “Junk Wax Era” is, there are some diamonds in the rough if you take the time to educate yourself. Also, do you want scarcity? Try to find gem mint copies of this era. Send in the best copies you can find and submit them to the third party grader of your choice. I wish you all the best with it.

My point is this, don’t toss out those monster boxes of late ’80s football cards just yet. From it emerges another Hall of Famer. Another diamond in the rough. Rookie cards of Hall of Famer Steve Atwater.


ROOKIE CARDS OF HALL OF FAMER

STEVE ATWATER

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1989 Pro Set, #492

This premier Pro Set release was offered to collectors in three series. The Steve Atwater RC (above) can be found in Series 2 packs. The bright red border with white stripes goes nicely with this action photo. The diagonal green “No. 1 Pick” designation represents Pro Sets’ number one pick, not the NFL’s.

However, one downfall is most collectors do not prefer rookie cards with players pictured in their college uniforms, and that’s exactly what’s happening here with this Atwater rookie card. There are no parallels for this set.


1989 Score, #263

Another premier set in 1989 was the forever popular Score Football. It’s a 330 card set released as a single series. The chase for this set was pretty intense as collectors were drawn to it mainly for its great rookie class, high-quality card stock, and great design.

This fantastic portrait of Atwater is framed out in green borders along with “rookie” designation and team helmet. Likewise, on the card back except much bigger, player bio and commentary are also given. Overall a solid card and among his three rookie cards this one is the most sought after among collectors. There are no parallels in this set.


1989 Topps Traded, #52

Topps Traded is an extension of the regular Topps flagship release. It has 132 cards and released as a single series boxed set. They mimic the flagship in every way and its sole purpose is to show players who have been traded and showcase them in their new uniforms -or- to include any rookies that may have been left out.

Clean, simple white border with orange and blue stripes highlight it well. A great action photo of Atwater, seemingly ready to defend a play, makes this a great card. Card back has me scratching my head a bit, no photo, odd design, and awful colors. There are no parallels for this set either.

Happy Collecting, Collectors

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Sources:
Steve Atwater Stats | Football-Reference.com https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/A/AtwaSt00.htm (accessed April 30, 2020).
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