Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Heroes #5

Another one of my heroes is a man who is quite popular locally; who set records for the Atlanta Falcons in the late 70’s and early 80’s that still stand to this day. The reason I consider him a hero, though, is not his play on the field, however. That man is Steve Bartkowski.

He was the number one draft pick in 1975. Tall, lanky, with an accurate aim and a rifle for an arm, he quickly began to get the Falcons lackluster offense on track. Aided by playmakers on defense, the running back tandem of Lynn Cain and William Andrews, and speedy wide receivers with excellent hands, Bart led the Falcons to a 12-4 record in 1980.

Known as “Peachtree Bart” for his carousing nightlife in downtown Atlanta, Bartkowski began attending a bible study group led by Dan DeHaan, the team chaplain, along with Greg Brezina and a number of other players. It was there that his life changed when he accepted Jesus as his personal savior and became a Christian. He was discipled there for a year, and decided to make his profession of faith public.

This took the form of a four page spread starting on the front page of the sports section in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The reason this had such appeal for me was that I had, as a young teenager, also just become a Christian. I followed his career in high school as my faith grew. DeHaan died as a young man, unexpectedly, and this left many Falcons soul searching, seeking answers and guidance.

Bartkowski published a biography, which I still have to this day, titled, “Steve Bartkowski, Intercepted by Christ.” By this time I had gone to college, first at Maryville then Liberty University. As luck would have it, shortly after retiring, Bartkowski started on the lecture circuit speaking at churches with his testimony, and one of his stops was Liberty University. I was a senior that year, in 1985, where I got to hear him speak one Sunday morning. I was thrilled. Bart was not so thrilled, however, when he was unexpectedly asked to speak again for the Sunday evening service, something he was unprepared for. The poor guy was flustered, so with a sheepish smile gave his testimony over again at the evening service.

There was no way in the 10,000 seat Thomas Road Baptist Church that I would be able to make my way through Liberty Security to the pulpit to tell Bartkowski that I was one of his biggest fans. Besides which, they often whisked Falwell and his entourage away during the ending prayer so that they would not be delayed with folks from the congregation wanting to chat.

So, time has passed. I am now in my mid-forties. Bartkowski largely keeps out of the public eye, and I suppose that is fitting, for the intense scrutiny of the media is hardly something one desires. The reason I consider him to be one of my heroes is for the stand he took publicly for Christ that inspired me. If I could, some day, I would like to have lunch with this gentleman, to say thanks, and to let him know how much this means to me. And Bart, if you ever read this, thank you. You are one of my heroes.

1 comment:

turnerpat@aol.com said...

Hey just looking up this book title and found this sight. My wife also has a signed copy of this book, she had meet him at a book sighing. I say this because God used Her to give Steve This book title (and she did not know or understand anything about football). Their is a story in it self about this title