Over the years as time passed since Steve Bartkowski's college career, he figured it had become distant enough that many people had mostly forgotten about it.
The former Falcons quarterback of 11 seasons spent his college career at the University of California, helping create the reputation given to the Pac-12 as one of the most pass prolific conferences annually. From 1972 to 1974, Bartkowski became a west coast passing legend and by his final season he was setting single-season records and earning All-American honors.
But as Bartkowski said, that was almost 40 years ago. Last year, however, the 1975 first-round pick of the Falcons, said he learned his college career isn't forgotten at all. In fact, it's a Hall of Fame career and Bartkowski found himself on Wednesday being enshrined with 24 other college players and coaches in the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame class.
"Each year they announced the class, I kind of wondered if I was more than forgotten about," Bartkowski said Wednesday morning at a press conference held in downtown Atlanta. "Lo and behold, I got the call this past year and I'm excited about it. It's a wonderful honor."
Notable NFL names that joined Bartkowski in the '12 Hall of Fame class include Art Monk, Jonathan Ogden, Jimmy Johnson and two players and one coach who spent portions of their career with the Falcons: Ty Detmer (2004-2005), Mark Simoneau (2000-2002) and Art Shell (1997-2000).
Bartkowski is part of the Hall of Fame's first enshrinement class at its new location in Atlanta. The College Football Hall of Fame is relocating from South Bend, Indiana and a state-of-the-art facility is expected to open next year. Bartkowski said it meant a lot to him personally to be part of the first class in Atlanta and the relocation of the Hall of Fame to his back yard is something everyone in the city will be proud of as new and exciting things continue to happen in downtown.
"It's obviously very exciting for the whole city of Atlanta and really the whole southeast in general," Bartkowski said. "Atlanta is the hub of the southeast and we all know that. This is just another tool in Atlanta's tool belt, if you will. With what's going on downtown here with the aquarium, the multitude of opportunities along with the College Football Hall of Fame becoming a reality, the new Falcons stadium going to be a reality in 2017, I think it's going to absolutely change the landscape of this city and the makeup of this city. I think it's a very exciting time for downtown Atlanta."
The Falcons Ring of Honor member still keeps close tabs on the current Falcons. As a member of the Falcons Board of Directors he's been able to stay close to the franchise and he anticipates another exciting season.
"I predict we're going to be a better team," he said. "I don't know if we're going to have a better record; 13-3 is pretty hard to match year after year. They're an incredible group of guys. Clearly they have an offense that is going to be high-powered and very fluid I think. It's going to be fun to watch."