Atwater, 32, knew what was coming. Late last season Denver began replacing him in passing situations with the speedier George Coghill. The Broncos were also looking for salary-cap relief, and Atwater was scheduled to make $2.6 million in 1999. "My former team thinks I can't play anymore," he says.
Several other teams thought otherwise. The Chiefs and the Eagles had already made bids when the Jets offered Atwater a three-year, $8.25 million contract with a $1.8 million signing bonus. "If it hadn't been the Jets, there was a good chance I would have hung 'em up," says Atwater, who believes the Jets are on the brink of a title. "I feel like a rookie again."
Atwater is only a season removed from a sterling Super Bowl performance in January 1998, when he made six tackles, broke up two passes and sacked the Packers' Brett Favre, causing a fumble that set up a Denver field goal. On Oct. 3 the Jets play the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. "I marked it on my calendar," Atwater says. "I'm already daydreaming about knocking one of [the Broncos'] helmets off."