Hey Falcoholics, I’m back with another edition of The Falcoholic’s Throwback Thursday series. This weekly segment highlights a former Atlanta Falcons player and discusses what they did for the franchise.
Whether you’ve been a fan since the inaugural season, or just became a fan recently, this series will give insight on players from the past. This week we will be focusing on quarterback Steve Bartkowski.
Steve Bartkowski was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 12, 1952. He attended Buchser High School in Santa Clara, Calif., where he was a football, basketball, and baseball star. There, he garnered a lot of attention from college scouts, receiving over 100 scholarship offers from institutions around the country.
Ultimately, Steve decided to attend the University of California at Berkeley, where he could play both football and baseball. During the 1972 season, Steve struggled, throwing for 944 yards, four touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. A year later in 1973, Steve threw for 910 yards, four touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Then came the 1974 season, where Steve’s game mightily improved. Steve threw for 2,580 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, which was enough to award him a consensus All-American. He also was an All-American baseball player, playing first base.
With the first overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected quarterback Steve Bartkowski. The team originally had the third selection, but ultimately traded the pick as well as offensive lineman George Kunz to the Baltimore Colts for the first overall pick. During his rookie season, Steve threw for 1,662 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, and was named the NFL Rookie of the Year.
Five games into the 1976 season, Bartkowski injured his knee, which would eventually lead to a total of 11 lifetime knee operations. The following season, Bartkowski only started 7 games, and was eventually benched during the 1978 preseason. This might have been the best thing to happen to him, as things were put into perspective, and his career changed for the better.
After re-gaining the starting role in 1978, Steve Bartkowski led the Falcons to their first playoff appearance in franchise history. The Wild Card matchup was against the Ron Jaworski-led Philadelphia Eagles, coached by Dick Vermeil. The Falcons went on to win the game, 14-13, with Steve passing for 243 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. The next week, the Falcons went on the road to play the Dallas Cowboys. Even with Bartkowski throwing three interceptions, the Falcons fell only a touchdown short of victory, losing 20-27 in Dallas.
It eventually would all come together during the 1980 season, by far Steve’s best. The Falcons finished 12-4, doing enough to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Bartkowski threw for 3,544 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, and was selected to his first ever Pro Bowl. In the Divisional Round, the Falcons once again faced off against the Dallas Cowboys, this time in Atlanta. Bartkowski’s two touchdowns weren’t enough to pull off a victory, and the Falcons fell to the Cowboys, 27-30.
In 1981, the Falcons would miss the playoffs with a 7-9 record, but Bartkowski was once again selected to the Pro Bowl. In 1982, the Falcons managed a 5-4 record, and returned to the playoffs. If the record is puzzling, it’s because a 57-day strike took place, resulting in NFL teams only playing 9 games. In the Wild Card round, the Falcons would play the Minnesota Vikings, in what would be the final Falcons playoff game in Steve Bartkowski’s career. The Falcons ultimately went on to lose a nail-biter in the Metrodome, 24-30.
Steve Bartkowski went on to play three more seasons in Atlanta before finishing his career playing for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1986 season.
Bartkowski played for 11 years in Atlanta, throwing for a total of 23,470 yards and 154 touchdowns. He’s regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in Atlanta Falcons history, as he’s currently second in passing yards and passing touchdowns, behind quarterback Matt Ryan. Bartkowski entered the Falcons Ring of Honor in 2004, and is one of four players to have their jersey number retired by the franchise. Additionally, Steve Bartkowski was inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame (1990), National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame (1993), Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (2007), and the College Football Hall of Fame (2012).
Outside of his NFL career, Bartkowski has served on the Boards of Directors of several charitable organizations, and previously served as a member of the Board of Advisors for the Atlanta Falcons.
So let me know in the comments below some of your favorite Steve Bartkowski memories. As always, you can find me on Twitter @EvanBirchfield. Additionally, make sure to follow @The_Falcoholic on Instagram for up-to-date news and information. Thanks for reading, Falcoholics.