SAN JOSE -- Steve Bartkowski is the one that people forget. Not all the time. But too often.
With all due respect to Western Pennsylvania, I'll stick with Bay Area high schools when it comes to churning out future NFL star quarterbacks. Jim Plunkett would be one example. He's from James Lick High in San Jose. Tom Brady is a graduate of Serra High in San Mateo. Dan Fouts is out of St. Ignatius in San Francisco. John Brodie is a product of Oakland Tech.
You might make your own list. There are many candidates. What about Jeff Garcia from Gilroy High? Craig Morton from Campbell High? Jim McMahon, who spent time at Andrew Hill High in San Jose?
And then there is Bartkowski. He was the top pick of the 1975 NFL draft (ahead of Walter Payton). He led the Atlanta Falcons to the franchise's first playoff game and victory. He was twice selected to the Pro Bowl and led the league in passing.
Still, for all that, Bartkowski tends to slip through the cracks in terms of Bay Area name association. It's probably because he played his high school ball at ... um, where was it again?
See, there's the problem. Buchser High in Santa Clara no longer exists. Bartkowski's alma mater was dissolved in 1981 because of downsized student enrollment in the city.
I should note, however, that Bartkowski's former attorney and agent Leigh Steinberg has another theory.
"What I tell people," said Steinberg, "is that Steve was so dynamic in sports
Steinberg was joking. But it could almost be true. Bartkowski was a three-sport star at Buchser. He scored more than 50 points in some basketball games. But colleges recruited him in baseball and football. Bartkowski picked Cal and became an All-American there in both sports before joining the NFL. The subsequent prominence of quarterbacks who followed him at Berkeley -- Joe Roth, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers among them -- also might have served to dissipate Bartkowski's achievements.
Which is too bad. In terms of pure all-around athleticism, Bartkowski was better than them all. If history has indeed dimmed his legend, the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame will attempt to rectify the matter Wednesday night. Bartkowski will be inducted into the Hall along with three other prominent former South Bay sports figures -- soccer's Brandi Chastain, golfer Roger Maltbie and auto racing pioneer Willy T. Ribbs.
Steinberg will tell you the induction is long overdue.
"When he was in college, Steve once stood in the end zone and threw the ball 100 yards to the other end zone," Steinberg said in a video interview recorded for Bartkowski's induction. "I don't think there is anybody in the NFL today that has the arm strength Steve had."
"It would be like a Ben Roethlisberger, maybe," Steinberg said. "Steve was more of a classic dropback passer with a real touch but willing to hang in there against everything. He was so strong that one time ... well, the Rams had a killer tackler named Isiah Robertson, a linebacker, and he ran into Steve as hard as he could and just bounced off him and fell down. Steve stood erect and completed the pass."
Steinberg, a recovering alcoholic who is successfully reconstituting his sports representation agency in Southern California after enduring some financial setbacks while battling his disease, will admit that he feels a special devotion to Bartkowski. Why? Because he was Steinberg's first client.
The two men met the day Bartkowski moved into his Cal living quarters. Steinberg, then a graduate student, was the dorm's resident counselor. He was captivated by the way Bartkowski drew all sorts of people to him as a charismatic personality.
"And this was Berkeley in the '70s, remember," said Steinberg. "If you walked up to someone on campus then and told them you were an All-American quarterback, they would say, 'Gee, Steve, that's great if you're into that hyperaggressive Neanderthal type of behavior.' "
That could be another reason Bartkowski might fly under the radar when discussing famous Bay Area athletes: He starred for Cal during an era when football was not much celebrated. The Bears never went to a bowl game in his three years at quarterback. He played for losing teams as a sophomore and junior before his breakout senior season, when he threw for 12 touchdowns on a 7-3-1 team.
Atlanta called his name with the overall No. 1 draft selection. By then, Steinberg had earned his law degree. Bartkowski needed an agent. He chose his former dorm counselor.
"My life was immeasurably changed," said Steinberg, who in the video to be played at Wednesday's induction dinner will also thank Bartkowski for "saving me from a life of corporate litigation drudgery."
Bartkowski, meanwhile, went on to a memorable 12-year professional career -- all but one of them with a Falcons franchise that, until his arrival, was persistently mediocre. Bartkowski led the league in passing touchdowns during the 1980 season and is still Atlanta's all-time passing yards leader. Additionally, he is enshrined in the "Ring of Honor" at the Georgia Dome.
Buchser High might be gone. But the school's other alums can take pride in knowing that the greatest athlete in their history will also now have a Hall of Fame plaque nailed to the HP Pavilion wall. And just like Bartkowski himself, you won't ever be able to knock it down.