Steve Bartkowski, owner of one of the great arms in college football history, spent much of his early career at California struggling in the shadows. First, he shared the starting job with Vince Ferragamo for two years. Then, in 1973, he suffered through a miserable season as the starter.
But in 1974 he put it all together.
Bartkowski earned consensus All-American honors and finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy vote after leading the nation in passing with 2,580 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Bears finished 7-3-1 as Bartkowski, despite a shoulder injury, four times topped 300 yards passing.
Bartkowski then became the top overall pick in the 1975 draft, going to the Atlanta Falcons. He still is the only Golden Bear to earn that honor. He played for the Falcons from 1975-1985 and then one season for the Los Angeles Rams (1986).
He earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1975 but knee injuries bogged down his early career. He and the Falcons bounced back in the early 1980s. He led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1980 with 31 and was selected for the Pro Bowl in both 1980 and 1981. He led the Falcons to their first three playoff appearances in 1978, 1980 and 1982. The Falcons won the NFC West Division in 1980, going 12-4 in the regular season.
Bartkowski continues to be the Falcons all-time leader in passing yards with 23,470. His No. 10 jersey has been retired by the franchise.
Before knee injuries slowed him down, Bartkowski was known as an exceptional all-around athlete. He also was an All-American first baseman for the Bears baseball team in 1973.
Another claim to fame: He was the first client of sports agent Leigh Steinberg.