Steve Bartkowski was the Falcons’ No. 1 pick in the 1975 NFL Draft.
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Top 50 Falcons: No. 11, Steve Bartkowski

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 11 is quarterback Steve Bartkowski.

Years played for Falcons: The top pick in the NFL Draft in 1975 out of the University of California, Steve Bartkowski played 11 seasons for the Falcons and helped them reach the playoffs in three of those seasons. Bartkowski made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1980 and 1981, leading the league with 31 passing touchdowns in 1980 and finishing second with 30 in 1981. After leaving the Falcons in 1985, Bartkowski would only play six more games in his career. His jersey is retired and hangs from the rafters at the Georgia Dome. Bartkowski’s greatest accomplishment has been surviving colon cancer. He was diagnosed with Stage 2 colon cancer in 2005 and has since beat it. He also had both of his knees replaced in 2006.

Steve Bartkowski led the Falcons to two divisional round games, including 1980 when the team finished 12-4. (Mike Powell/Getty Images)

Jersey No.: 10

His impact on the team: Bartkowski is second in franchise history in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. He finished his career with 23,470 yards and 154 touchdowns. In his Pro Bowl seasons in 1980 and 1981, he ranked top five in the NFL in passing yards and in 1980 lead the league in game-winning drives with four. Bartkowski lead the league in passer rating at the end of the 1983 season. In his three playoff appearances, Bartkowski led the Falcons to two divisional round games including 1980 when the team finished 12-4. He won the 1975 NFL Rookie of the Year, was a 2004 Falcons Ring of Honor Inductee and earned a spot in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

On being drafted No. 1 ahead of Hall of Famers Randy White and Walter Payton: “Things just fell my way. The Falcons had the third choice and (head coach) Marion Campbell called me and told me he was going to get me. He traded the best left tackle in the game for me."

On his most memorable moment with the Falcons: “It’s odd but ESPN reminds me of it every year and it was the loss to the Cowboys in the playoffs (1980 season). That was our chance when we had arguably the best team in the NFL. I still relive that yearly. You don’t get that many chances to close the deal."

On being on the Falcons board and Arthur Blank: "It has been an exciting time with the new stadium going up. I want to help in any way. Arthur is so passionate and so into all the details. I would have loved to play for the guy."

On being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame: “Year after year I would look at the list and wonder how in the world people forgot about my college football career. I know a bunch of guys were lobbying for me including Archie Manning. I think they got tired of Archie talking and put me in."

On Matt Ryan breaking his passing records: “Matt did in seven years what it took me to in 11. He is a special player.”

On beating colon cancer: “I am blessed. I got one of my old-age things in life out of the way. I can still do a lot of the things, and I am doing better than I deserve. … It was difficult going through it, but everybody has a course to run. I took it as a challenge. I had the best healthcare in the world at Piedmont Hospital. I caught it just before it was really bad. It was a tumor, but it had not broken through the colon wall. I have stood on a lot of stumps telling people to get checked early. I put it off until I was 52 and if I had done it at 50 when men are supposed to be checked it would have been simply cutting off a polyp."

Where he is now: Bartkowski, 63, now lives in Johns Creek where he has been working with DPR Construction for 15 years. He is an avid golfer.

The countdown to the Top 50 players in Falcons history runs through the end of the season.

Top 50 Falcons Countdown

50: Chuck Smith

49: Michael Haynes

48: Jonathan Babineaux

47: John Zook

46: Ken Reaves

45: Lynn Cain

44: Justin Blalock

43: Bobby Butler

42: Tim Mazzetti

41: Buddy Curry

40: Scott Case

39: Jeff Merrow

38: Elbert Shelley

37: Matt Bryant

36: Alge Crumpler

35: Michael Turner

34: Ray Buchanan

33: Chris Hinton

32: Terance Mathis

31: Devin Hester

30: Don Smith

29: Greg Brezina

28: Chris Miller

27: John James

26: Bob Whitfield

25: Rolland Lawrence

24: Alfred Jenkins

23: Billy Johnson

22: Chris Chandler

21: Morten Andersen

20: John Abraham

19: George Kunz

18: Jamal Anderson

17: Keith Brooking

16: R.C. Thielemann

15: Tony Gonzalez

14: Andre Rison

13: Julio Jones

12: Roddy White

11: Steve Bartkowski

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