The Green Bay Packers lost another member of Vince Lombardi’s dynasty teams yesterday when quarterback Zeke Bratkowski passed away at the age of 88. The Danville, Illinois, also later served as an assistant coach with Green Bay under Phil Bengtson and Bart Starr.
Bratkowski earned the nickname “Super Sub” after compiling an 8-1-0 record with the Packers when starting for or coming in for Starr. “Brat” had the perfect attitude for a backup quarterback. He was well prepared and never had a big ego that got in the way of helping the team win.
In 1967, he explained his approach to reporters. “I’ve tried to pattern myself after Bart,” Bratkowski explained. “We study the movies together and go over the game plan together. I try to think as much like he does as I can so the team will not have to make a big adjustment if I’m needed.”
His relationship with Starr was a special one. “Bart and I never thought about one and two,” Bratkowski remembered. “We prepared together. Took a lot of notes and compared notes. There was no jealousy between us. We were great friends. When he was playing, I was on the phone helping him and vice versa. It was really a good match.”
His most famous game with the Packers came in the 1965 Western Division Playoff Game against the Baltimore Colts. Starr injured his ribs trying to tackle Baltimore’s Dick Shinnick who was returning a fumble by Bill Anderson just 25 seconds into the game. Bratkowski came in and finished the game, throwing for 248 yards while helping the Pack overcome a 10-0 deficit and win the game 13-10 in overtime on Don Chandler’s 25-yard field goal.
The Colts were without their starting quarterback, Johnny Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo for the game and had to rely on running back Tom Matte to run the offense.
The Packers trailed 10-0 at the half but Bratkowski rallied the team. Paul Hornung scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter to make the score 10-7 before Chandler’s controversial 22-yard field goal with 1:58 remaining in regulation tied the game at 10-10.
Bratkowski led the Packers on the game-winning drive that ended at 13:39 of overtime on Chandler’s 25-yard game winning kick.
“I tried to maintain the same game plan as Bart,” Bratkowski said after the game. “The Colts gave us a couple different defenses trying to eliminate some of our pass patterns. They blitzed quite a bit and I was trying to hit blitz type passes.”
Bratkowski originally joined the Packers during the 1963 season after being let go by the Los Angeles Rams. Bart Starr was injured and the only healthy quarterback on the Green Bay roster was John Roach, so the Pack acquired the 32-year-old former Bears quarterback.
In seven seasons with the Packers, Bratkowski started nine games and completed 220-of-416 passes for 3,147 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Several years ago, Bratkowski was asked if Vince Lombardi could have succeeded in the modern NFL. “Everybody always asks me, could coach Lombardi coach today? I say better than what he was,” Bratkowski said. “He was smart, and he’d adapt. He could have kept up with [the passing game.] No problem with that. He changed the game plan every week.”
Bratkowski won three championships with the Packers in 1965, 1966 and 1967 and was on the teams that won the first two Super Bowls.
After his playing days were over, Bratkowski turned to coaching. He was an assistant with Green Bay under Phil Bengtson in 1969 and 1970. In 1971, the Packers re-acquired his playing rights and he started Dan Devine’s first game in 1971 against the New York Giants.
Bratkowski retired after the 1971 season and after serving three seasons as an assistant with the Bears under Abe Gibron, he joined the Packers staff under Starr from 1975-1981, serving as a quarterback coach and backfield coach. He was still with the Packers when they acquired John Jefferson from the Chargers in 1981 and had one of the league’s most dangerous passing attacks with Lynn Dickey throwing to Jefferson, James Lofton and Paul Coffman.
After leaving the Packers organization, Bratkowski went on to coach for the Colts, Jets, Browns and Eagles before retiring in 1995. His son, Bob Bratkowski later served as offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Did Zeke ever start a game he didn’t win?” Packers Hall of Fame receiver Boyd Dowler recalled. “He had a good arm and he was a good passer. He followed Bart around. They talked. They watched tape together. And they prepared together.”
Bratkowski was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1989.
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