The Falcons selected quarterback Steve Bartkowski as the top overall pick in 1975.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Bartkowski: ‘It’s kind of a do-or-die for everybody there’ 

Former Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski, while chillaxing on his fishing and lodging resort in Montana, still astutely follows the team.

He and wife, Sandee, moved from Atlanta about four years ago. You can catch up with them here in the wonderful update written by the AJC’s Steve Hummer.

Bartkowski is one of my favorites, mostly because he ALWAYS took or quickly returned my calls.

Bartkowski, who’s in the team’s Ring of Honor, watched the draft more intently like most of the nation. 

Here’s a paragraph that piqued my interest from Hummer’s article: 

“He’s invested in the Falcons future, near term, because he recognizes next season to be a big one. “It’s kind of a do-or-die year for everybody there,” Bartkowski said.’

After back-to-back 7-9 seasons, Bartkowski believes everything rides on this season and getting back to the playoffs. Maybe even reaching the Super Bowl and atoning for the greatest loss in Super Bowl history. 

Coaches and administrators need to win now or face the fallout, Hummer wrote.

“And,” Bartkowski said, “everybody knows that Matt (Ryan) is in the fourth quarter.”

Before Ryan’s loss in Super Bowl LI, Bartkowski had the toughest loss in franchise history. 

Before 28-3, there was 24-10.

Former quarterback Chris Chandler is part of the QB misery club, but the Falcons were never in Super Bowl XXXIII because of Eugene Robinson’s red-light-district trip.  

The Falcons blew a 24-10 led against the Cowboys in their divisional playoff game Jan. 4, 1981. Danny White connected with Drew Pearson on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left.

“Atlanta has gone from euphoria to the pits of depression,” one of the announcers said. 

The Cowboys botched their extra-point attempt, but the Falcons couldn’t drive down and force overtime with a field goal and lost 30-27.  

Bartkowski was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1975 draft out of California. He played 12 seasons in the NFL, including 11 with the Falcons and one with the Rams. 

Hummer wondered if Bartkowski, 67, had any advice for Ryan, who’s set to turn 35 on Sunday and play in his 13th season in the NFL.

“I got nothing to tell him that he doesn’t already know,” Bartkowski said. “He’s one of the more incredibly gifted guys I’ve been around, and no one is more competitive than he is. I know he’ll take full advantage of whatever opportunities he has. You’re only as good as the people around you, and he understands that. I wish him the best. You think about the squandered opportunities. You hope he gets another shot at (a championship).” 

Bartkowski received one more shot at the playoffs after their playoff meltdown against the Cowboys. 

The 5-4 Falcons went to the playoffs in the 1982 strike-shortened season and lost in the wild-card round to the Vikings, 30-24. 

Ryan went back to the playoffs after Super Bowl LI, but the offense stalled on the 1-yard line in the divisional round against Philadelphia.

If the NFL gets to play in 2020, Bartkowski clearly believes it’s playoffs-or-bust time for the Falcons. 

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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