Atlanta Falcons playoffs rewind: Steve Bartkowski

(Photo: Atlanta Falcons)

(Photo: Atlanta Falcons)

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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32 comments Add your comment


January 8th, 2013
2:45 pm

Joey the Bull

January 8th, 2013
2:56 pm

Remember Mick Luckhurst or Super Gnat or Big Ben Right?


January 8th, 2013
3:02 pm

Yep, Scott, Noter, Brezina, Kuykendall, gosh I’m a “homer” Falcons fan always will be. I hate every other NFL team. Go ‘cons!

Sweet Pea

January 8th, 2013
3:04 pm

I remember watching this game on a small, black-and-white TV on the floor behind the counter of my mother’s shop in Buckhead. My dad and brother were at the game. I will never forget the feeling of watching the Falcons win in the playoffs. Steve Bartkowski had a cannon arm.

I hope we can get another breakthrough win this weekend! Go Falcons!


January 8th, 2013
3:05 pm

BTW, Hey D’Led. Can we start a campaign to get the old style uniforms back, full-time? Maybe with the new logo, but the old ones look clean and mean. Black jersey and red helmet! The new ones look like the Georgia Dome before it was painted. Turquoise and mauve…oddly ugly


January 8th, 2013
3:06 pm

I was at the game. Cold and miserable for three quarters. Nervous as a cat. I went to the Dallas game a couple of years later. I was shocked when Leeman went cautious and Dallas scored twice. That was our year!


January 8th, 2013
3:20 pm

Wow!! The memories. I was 8 years old at the time. I was so hyped because (1) it was Christmas Eve and (2) my team,the Atlanta Falcons,had won a close tight playoff game vs the Philadelphia Eagles. My relatives from Philly also just happened to be visiting us at the time too.

Thanks for the trip back down memory lane. On to new and bigger memories for my Atl Falcons.


January 8th, 2013
3:29 pm

Great memories, let’s add to our playoff history this weekend.

Rise up and stomp Seattle

Mitch (the one in Rome)

January 8th, 2013
3:32 pm

That face mask was the face mask on my first helmet. Coolest kid around with that back then. Beastmode!

KC Falcon

January 8th, 2013
3:37 pm

That 1978 playoff game was a lot like many games this season, where the Falcons couldn’t get it cranked up until pretty late. The Raiders game, the Cardinals game. A little bit like the Cowboys game.

When Bart got hot, it was something to watch. He just seemed to will them back down the stretch.
The Falcons were very competitive the following week as well in Dallas. Fell 7 points short I believe.

Set the stage for the 1980 season, and that very good Falcons team that should have won it all. Would have hosted Philly again and played in N.O. Atlanta had the best team in the NFL in 1980.


January 8th, 2013
3:58 pm

ugh. don’t mention that ‘81 DAL game. when the Cowboys got that last TD, I cussed … and Moms put my 4th grade butt on punishment. Never hated DAL more than I did that day.

Chattanooga Chuck

January 8th, 2013
4:22 pm

Not only did Mike Michel miss an extra point for Philly, he missed a short field goal at the end of the game that would have given them a win. The regular Eagle kicker had been injured a few weeks before but instead of signing a replacement, Dick Vermeil decided to use Michel, the teams punter. The media would have a field day with something like that happening today. I don’t consider it a fluke win since the Falcons were the better team that day, but they kept turning the ball over.

I was twenty years old, it was Christmas Eve, and life was beautiful.

Chattanooga Chuck

January 8th, 2013
4:30 pm

As wonderful as the 78 wild card game was the Dallas loss two years later was a million times worse.


January 8th, 2013
6:37 pm

My brother gave me two tickets to that game. It was a dreary, damp day. Near the end of the game, during the last two Atlanta possessions, the sun briefly came out. I remember Wallace Francis sliding into the end zone on his rear end on that final play, untouched for the go-ahead touchdown.

What many people will likely NOT recall is the failed field goal by Philadelphia as the clock counted down to the end of the game. Strangely, Philadelphia did not even DRESS a bona fide place kicker for the game. I don’t recall exactly why, but they had a chance to win with a field goal in the 40-45 yard range and ended up with a linebacker kicking it poorly.

That was a great game.

Respect for these Dirty Birds!

January 8th, 2013
6:59 pm

This is why we forever love these guys. Bartkowski, Mike Kenn, Jeff Van Note, Fralic, Buddy Curry, Alfred Jenkins, Wallace Francis. Live and die with these guys. Thanks to these notable teams that we loved so much. I cried so hard after the Dallas game in 81. How we lost that one I will never know. We had the Grits Blitz for Christ sake! Met Steve Bartkowski once and thanked him for all those great memories. He will forever be nothing but class. Lehman Bennett was fired?! How and why did our owner ever do that!!!!!


January 8th, 2013
7:01 pm

Steve turned out to be a great guy in the community too.


January 8th, 2013
7:03 pm

Best deep ball passer in the game.


January 8th, 2013
7:29 pm

by Michael Cunningham


Good stuff!

Nice to go back every now and then.

The Nature Boy

January 8th, 2013
7:44 pm

It’s funny how our memories work….I was born in 1968 and don’t remember 1978 game…but I cried in 1980 when Dallas beat us…..Falcons win this Sunday….this team is on a mission…IMHO

SWAT Native

January 8th, 2013
7:55 pm

I was at that game. Great memories.


January 8th, 2013
9:09 pm

The Falcon loss to Dallas was bad and then management getting rid of Coach Bennent was just the stuff the Smiths showed how smart they thought they were. Not ! It would seems that the Smiths smarts and greatest accomplishment was getting a team here then they repeatedly showed that they had no next move.
The Falcon home uniforms are the worst ! I don’t know what the guy or girl got for that design but they should of gotten LIFE !


January 8th, 2013
9:19 pm

Remember going to this game too. Christmas eve , cold and a great time. Cant forget seeing that long pass to win the game. Its funny reading the post of who was there because we all have grown but want so bad to see the Falcons win the super bowl This is the year


January 8th, 2013
9:22 pm

That missed FG was a 39 yarder. I was also there. After ATL scored to go ahead I remember thinking “Please don’t let a green carder beat us!” He didn’t miss that much. At least from aisle 139 it looked close.

As far as the next game in TX, if the Falcons recover a fumble in the end zone just before the half they win. All week long all we heard was how ATL was nothing but a scrimmage for that other team. Scrimmage my ass. While disappointed, I was also proud of their effort.

1981 Divisional Game, Steve played a heckuva game. Fate (too tall jones’ good luck) and lousy defense at the end sealed ATL’s fate. I’ll never forget the silence of death in that miserable stadium, and the 500 mile drive home to Jonesboro. NFL dot com has a postmortem episode there if anyone wants to re-live the worst day in ATL sports history.

Steve made the Falcons relevant after years of ridicule. Thanks for some good memories, Steve.

TN Falcon

January 8th, 2013
9:53 pm

Steve was my favorite Falcon ever. Met him at a Bible study once (he was speaking). Great guy!


January 8th, 2013
11:28 pm

The Eagles brought their cheerleaders to that game at Atl FULCO Stadium, didn’t they?


January 8th, 2013
11:55 pm

Peachtree Bart – the greatest passer ever in ATL

Dr. Warren

January 9th, 2013
4:52 am

I was at both of those playoff games as an 11 year old and 13 year old, respectively. Funny, I didn’t remember that the Falcons had to come back like that but I did remember Mike Michel missing those two kicks. The Falcons’ loss to Dallas, the low point of my childhood, had a huge impact on this franchise’s trajectory. Here’s hoping the Falcons keep their 11 and 13 year old fans happy this time around!

Son Of Bart

January 9th, 2013
5:39 am

Here’s the best sports line ever written about the great Steve Bartkowski! And I am quoting this by rote from an aging and forgetful mind. “He could throw the football from here to the moon — and hit the man in the moon in the belly button”. Selah.

Son Of Bart

January 9th, 2013
5:54 am

Also, to be clear, I have used this “handle” for quite some time — and I am not in any way kin to “Peachtree Bart” as he was known then (Hotlanta’s lame attempt to create our own “Broadway Joe”). But Mr. Bartkowski, should you happen to read this, thanks so much for all the memories! Had not fickle Fate intervened, you would have had a well deserved ring in 1980!

P B Orr

January 9th, 2013
5:55 am

I remember that 78 game like it was yesterday. I convinced my Dad that we needed to upgrade our 6-year-old TV with a new picture tube. I got it installed and dialed in hours before the start of the game. We saw it in glorious color on a brand new screen.

I usually just read but...

January 9th, 2013
7:33 am

Bart is my favorite player of all time. Sadly, most of what he did was just tuff determination. I wonder what he could have accomplished with good protection and a full career without the knee injuries. He threw the sweetest deep ball of anyone IMHO.

An Old Bird

January 9th, 2013
4:41 pm

I watched the 1978 game in black-and-white my sister’s house in Atlanta. I rmember the announcer saying the Phillie kicker had never made a field goal. After the kick he just sat down on the turf.

For Bart, my favorite memory is from a Rams game where bootlegged to the right from the 1 or 2 yard line, and ran in for a touchdown. The announcer said, “Yep, that speed is deceptive. He’s alot slower than he looks.”