Top 50 Falcons: No. 11, Steve Bartkowski

Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons

Steve Bartkowski finished his career with 23,470 yards and 154 touchdowns. (George Rose/Getty Images)

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, Atlanta Falcons

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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