Who: Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski
What: NFC wild card playoff game, Eagles vs. Falcons
When: Dec. 24, 1978
Where: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
Score: Falcons 14, Eagles 13
What happened: In their 13th season as an expansion franchise in Atlanta, the Falcons qualified for the playoffs for the first time … and won.
After finishing over .500 just once since beginning play in 1966, Atlanta posted a 9-7 record in the 1978 regular season. That was four games behind the Los Angeles Rams in the old NFC West but good enough to earn one of two NFC wild card berths.
Bartkowski, Atlanta’s No. 1 overall pick in the 1975 draft, had won back the starting job from June Jones early in the season and led the team to an 8-5 record as the starter. Atlanta lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the regular-season finale but still hosted a playoff game.
The Eagles brought in a stout defense and Bartkowski said he was so wrapped up in preparation that he didn’t feel particularly nervous about his first playoff experience.
“I remember it was Christmas Eve and my dad was there — he didn’t get to see me play very often,” Bartkowski said. “Those are the two things that stand out in my mind. I can’t remember specifically feeling like it was any different than any other game. I tried to treat it that way.”
Philadelphia gained an early 6-0 lead on Ron Jaworski’s touchdown pass to Harold Carmichael. (Kicker Mike Michel missed the PAT.) The Eagles extended the lead to 13-0 on Wilbert Montgomery’s touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Falcons rallied behind two touchdown passes by Bartkowski in the last five minutes. The first was a 13-yard strike to Jim Mitchell and the second went for 37 yards to Wallace Francis.
Bartkowski said he doesn’t recall the details of the first touchdown but remembers the second one vividly.
“The one that clinched the game, Wallace Francis was the slot (receiver),” he said. “He had one-on-one coverage with the linebacker, who was trying to run down the middle. They were in a cover-two (defense) and I threw it over the top.”
Atlanta would lose at Dallas in the divisional round the following week. But Bartkowski went on to set several franchise records. He led the Falcons back to the playoffs two more times but they couldn’t win another game.
Where is he now: Bartkowski still lives in the Atlanta area. “They can kick you off the team but they can’t kick out of the city,” he joked.
Bartkowski works for a national general contractor firm, DPR Construction, and said he regularly travels to the company’s other 16 offices throughout the country. Bartkowski also is on the Falcons’ board of directors.
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