Cal football: 15 greatest quarterbacks in Golden Bears history

Jared Goff, California Golden Bears. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Jared Goff, California Golden Bears. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /
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Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons
Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images) /

Steve Bartkowski is one of the best quarterbacks at any level that does not get the credit he deserves. Bartkowski played quarterback for the Golden Bears for three years in the early 1970s, before putting together an outstanding NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons.

He got his opportunity to play quarterback for Cal in 1972 but had to split time with another strong quarterback in Vince Ferragamo. Bartkowski played in all 11 games in both 1972 and 1973, but never threw for 1,000 yards in a season. He completed 42.4 percent of his passes for 944 yards, four touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 1972 and completed 47.3 percent of his passes for 910 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions in 1973.

While those stats are nothing to write home about, Bartkowski would get his big break in 1974. Ferragamo would transfer to Nebraska after his sophomore season with the Golden Bears, leaving the door wide open for Bartkowski to take complete control of the Cal offense. Boy, did he ever.

In 1974, Bartkowski quarterbacked the Golden Bears to a 7-3-1 record. He completed 56.0 percent of his passes for 2,580 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Bartkowski averaged 7.9 yards per attempt and achieved a passing efficiency rating of 130.6. Most importantly, he racked up the accolades during his senior season at Cal.

Bartkowski was a consensus All-American in 1974 and was named All-Pac-8 for his fantastic last season at Cal. He played so well that he went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Falcons. Bartkowski was taken ahead of four future Pro Football Hall of Famers including Randy White (No. 2 to the Dallas Cowboys) and Walter Payton (No. 4 to the Chicago Bears). While he didn’t end up being a transcendent talent professionally like “Manster” and “Sweetness”, “Bart” was the first great quarterback in Falcons franchise history.

He played 11 years in Atlanta, won NFL Rookie of the Year in 1975, made two trips to the Pro Bowl and led the Falcons to their first three playoff berths in franchise history. Bartkowski played one last season with the Los Angeles Rams before retiring in 1986. He held seemingly every Falcons franchise passing record before Matt Ryan came along and has been inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor. In 2007, Bartkowski was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame after his dynamic Cal career.