Passing Sensation

Zeke Bratkowski logged 4,854 total offensive yards in three years at UGA

Hurricane Katrina is long gone but not forgotten – not as far as Edmund (Zeke) Bratkowski is concerned. The former University of Georgia passing sensation delivered food, clothing and furniture to the needy just as he once delivered touchdown passes to his Bulldog and Green Bay teammates.

In the aftermath of Katrina, Bratkowski organized and chaired a church (St. Rita Catholic Church) committee in his hometown of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. The group pinpointed Bayou La Batre, about 15 miles west of Mobile, Ala., and has made a number of trips there, taking food, clothing and furniture. The last two Thanksgivings they took food to feed 40 families.

Between 1951 and 1953, Zeke logged 4,854 total offensive yards, mostly passing, breaking the record held by the University of Ken-tucky’s Vito (Babe) Parilli. Zeke’s mark stood for 27 years until broken by Herschel Walker (1980-82) with 5,259 yards.

At the age of 76, Zeke is far from ready to hang up his cleats. Every year he works with college quarterbacks, getting them ready for the Senior Bowl and looks by pro scouts. This year, he went to Knoxville, Tenn., to prepare Eric Ainge, the Vols All-SEC quarterback.

Bratkowski may have been the best backup quarterback in NFL history. He played behind Bart Starr for seven-and-a-half seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Along the way they took three consecutive championships and the pre-Super Bowl national title, beating the Cleveland Browns and then demolishing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I and the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI.

He’s a member of the Green Bay Packers and Georgia Sports halls of fame.

“I was blessed with great coaches,” Zeke says. “Coach [Wally] Butts worked with me before practice, during practice and after practice. He had me throwing the football when it was dark. He stayed on my back every day, telling me how to grip the ball, pinpoint receivers, dodge oncoming defensive linemen. “I was lucky. I not only had good college coaches but great pass receivers like Zippy Morocco and Harry Babcock. They made me look good.”

Not only was Zeke a passer deluxe, he was a superb punter as well. In high school he set the Illinois state record for the longest punt – 86 yards. His senior year at Georgia, team captain Bratkowski led the nation in punting for the 1953 season with a 42.6 yard average, nosing out future teammate Starr with a 42.4 yard average.

Bratkowski was an All-American in 1952 and ’53. In 14 NFL seasons, seven-and-a-half with the Packers and six-and-a-half split between the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams, he completed 762 passes for 10,345 yards.

Following his playing career, Lombardi kept Zeke in sight, making him his offensive coordinator. He spent seven years with Lom-bardi and later directed offenses for the Bears, Rams and New York Jets. He “retired” from coaching in 1996.

Bratkowski grew up in meager circumstances in Danville, Ill. His dad was a truck driver and his mother a machinist in a coat factory. Zeke was throwing and kicking footballs when he was 8 years old. By high school, he was the rage of Illinois.

His high school coach, Paul Shelby, sent Charley Trippi to the University of Georgia and told Zeke he was a natural for Coach Butts’ passing game. Zeke also earned a business administration degree and a commission to the U.S. Air Force. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and played one season before going on active duty for three years with the Air Force.

He is married to the former Mary Elizabeth Harmon.

Zeke’s son Bob, following in his father’s footsteps, is offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. His son Stephen (a former quarterback for Arizona State University) was killed in an accident at age 30. His daughter Catherine is in the construction business.

What would Zeke like to be remembered for?

“Being a good husband, a good father and a team player.”

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