Before Matt Ryan was flinging the pigskin to Julio Jones, before Michael Vick was flying down the field faster than anyone else, and before Chris Chandler was handing it off to Jamal Anderson on the way to a Superbowl appearance, a kid out of the University of California was under center for the Falcons.
Steve Bartkowski led the Atlanta offense from 1975 to 1985. The first overall draft pick quickly showed his worth, earning Rookie of the Year during the 1975 season with a resume of 1,662 yards and 15 touchdowns. Those numbers may not be impressive today, but in Bart’s day the league was run-oriented, and the defense could get away with much more than they could today (i.e. the Mel Blount Rule, which restricted defenders from making contact with eligible receivers more than five yards from the line of scrimmage before the ball was thrown, was not established until the 1978 season)Bartkowski brought the Falcons their first playoff win in franchise history, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in 1978. During his career he would also lead the Falcons to playoff appearances in 1978, 1980, and 1982, and one NFC West Division Championship in 1980.
“The Golden Arm” certainly had a strong supporting cast around him, with running backs like William Andrews and Gerald Riggs, an offensive line including Mike Kenn and Jeff Van Note, and receivers Alfred Jenkins, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, and Jim Mitchell. However, sharing a division with the dominant San Francisco 49ers made postseason success a rarity, and unfortunately the Bartkowski-led teams never found themselves deep in the playoffs.
Regardless of the team’s playoff performance at the time, he was the first consistent quarterback the Falcons ever had, and he would go on to set every franchise record in passing. Those records include feats like most career passing yards with 23,468, and most passing touchdowns in a season with 31 (most records were later broken by Matt Ryan).Bart will be remembered for his cannon of an arm and intangible clutch factor. His two most thrilling throws during his time in Atlanta would be game winning Hail Marys against division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints.
Watch the 49ers lose here.
Watch the ‘Aints lose here.