The former Atlanta Falcons quarterback stressed the importance of education over football before giving them tips in a clinic Thursday afternoon.
“This one day is going to end for you,” he said to a group of about 20 players. “Take full advantage of getting an education.”
Bartkowski, the No. 1 overall draft pick for the Atlanta Falcons in 1975, and former Falcons quarterback and head coach June Jones were in town for the Salvation Army’s second annual Doing the Most Good dinner at the Kroc Center. Last year, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw spoke at the dinner.
“The Salvation Army does great work throughout the country,” Bartkowski said. “This is one of the more impressive centers I’ve seen. The Kroc family has done such amazing charitable work in all the communities they operate in. I’m glad to be a part of the Augusta scene.”
Bartkowski was named the NFL Rookie of the Year after passing for more than 1,600 yards with 15 touchdowns his first season. A two-time Pro Bowler, Bartkowski held every Falcons passing record when he departed Atlanta after the 1985 season. He played one final season with the Rams in 1986, finishing with more than 24,000 passing yards.
Current Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan broke Bartkowski’s Falcons career passing yardage record in the final game of last season. It was one of few bright spots for Atlanta, which finished tied for last in the NFC South one season after playing in the NFC Championship Game.
“Last year was an aberration,” Bartkowski said. “They’re a lot better football team than 4-12. Everybody knows that. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back to leap forward. There’s a lot of pieces in places. They just need to keep everybody healthy.”
Jones, Bartkowski’s backup for the Falcons from 1977-81 and best man at his wedding, made a rare appearance with his friend – Jones said they see each other a few times a year. The former leader of the Run and Shoot offense who went 19-29 with Atlanta, Jones is enjoying life in Dallas. Jones has made a name for himself in the college ranks turning around the Hawaii and Southern Methodist football programs. He posted four consecutive winning seasons at SMU before going 5-7 last season.
Jones said he’s played golf several times with former Augusta State golf coach Josh Gregory, who took the SMU job in 2011. Jones said he likes what he sees out of the man who led the Jaguars to a pair of NCAA Division I national titles.
“He’s a great teacher. Kids love to play for him. Great recruiter,” Jones said. “I expect him to do at SMU what he did here.”