The passing of Zeke Bratkowski. That sentence means something completely different today than it did for the previous 70 years.
Bratkowski, whose given name of Edmund Raymond had little to do with the one he was known by, died Monday at his home in Santa Rosa, Fla. He was 88.
Bratkowski forever will be known as one of the greatest passers of all time, a reputation that began with his time as quarterback of the Georgia Bulldogs. “The Brat,” his nickname then, was a two-time All-SEC selection and two-time SEC passing champion playing for the Bulldogs in 1952-53. That he did that while playing for some of Georgia’s less-competitive teams makes it an even more incredible accomplishment.
Bratkowski established virtually every passing record at a time when grinding out 10-7 wins was the preferred strategy of the day. Bratkowski passed for 1,824 yards in 1952 and 1,461 yards in 1953 and finished his career with 4,836 career passing yards. These feats were recognized by the more progressive NFL. After throwing touchdown passes of 50 and 60 yards in the Senior Bowl all-star game, Bratkowski was a second-round NFL draft selection and embarked on a 14-year pro career with the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, and Green Bay Packers.
But he was best known as Bart Starr’s backup, and best friend.
“Oh, they were very, very close,” UGA historian Loran Smith said of the two Packers’ quarterbacks. “Not just during the season, but their families were close and they spent time together year-round.”
Smith remembers Bratkowski as a football player who could truly do it all.
“One year, he led the nation in passing, punting and interceptions,” Smith said. “That’d be interceptions thrown. But he was truly exceptional throwing the football. He just got caught up being at Georgia during the time of one-platoon football.”
Actually, Bratkowski led the nation in passing in ’52 and punting in ’53.
Bratkowski remained an expert on passing into his final years. After his playing days, Bratkowski became a longtime NFL offensive coordinator. And even after retirement, his services were being sought.
Former Florida star Tim Tebow hired Bratkowski as his personal passing coach in 2010 as Tebow tried to make his way with the Denver Broncos.
Finally settling on Santa Rosa Beach in the Florida panhandle, Bratkowski turned his attention to assisting in hurricane relief efforts.
Bratkowksi belongs to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (inducted in 1980), the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame (1995) and the UGA's Circle of Honor (2006) in addition to the Packers Hall of Fame (1989).
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Saint Rita’ Catholic Church, 137 Moll Drive, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459 with Father Michael Hartley officiating. Burial is to follow at Gulf Cemetery with military honors provided by the U.S. Air Force.
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