He had all the tools to lead a team and often excelled on the field, but he was fated to serve as the understudy to the future Hall of Famer Bart Starr.
Zeke Bratkowski was an outstanding passer with a keen football mind; he played at quarterback for 14 seasons in the N.F.L.; and he later engineered passing attacks as an offensive coach for six pro teams, including the Jets.
He spent seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, mostly under Coach Vince Lombardi in the 1960s, when Lombardi transformed a long-moribund franchise into pro football’s dominant team.
But for all his talents, Bratkowski faced a formidable obstacle: He was the backup to the Packers’ future Hall of Famer Bart Starr, stepping in when Starr was injured or being rested, on teams that won three consecutive National Football League championships.
Bratkowski died on Monday at 88 at his home in Santa Rosa Beach, in Florida’s Panhandle. His wife, Mary Elizabeth Bratkowski, said the cause was a heart attack.
His death came six months after Starr died at 85.
Bratkowski had made the most of his opportunities.
His signature moment came when the Packers faced the Baltimore Colts in a playoff for the 1965 Western Conference title. Starr incurred chest and rib injuries on the Packers’ first offensive play while trying to stop a Colts defensive player from returning a fumbled reception for a touchdown. Bratkowski came in, completed 22 passes for 248 yards and steered Green Bay to a 13-10 overtime victory. The Packers went on to defeat the Cleveland Browns in the N.F.L. championship game.
Earlier that season, Bratkowski twice entered games in the third quarter with the score tied. He led the Packers to victories both times.
He replaced Starr several times during the 1966 season, and in the last game, when he was the starting quarterback for the first time that season, he took the Packers to a 27-23 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams. Green Bay went on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys for the N.F.L. championship.
In 1967, Bratkowski led the Packers to a victory over the Atlanta Falcons after Starr sustained a bruised shoulder, and he started two games that season. He played briefly in Super Bowl I, when the Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, and in Super Bowl II, when they beat the Oakland Raiders.
Edmund Raymond Bratkowski was born on Oct. 20, 1931, in Westville, Ill., to Kasmer and Elizabeth (Kraninock) Bratkowski, and grew up in nearby Danville, not far from the Indiana border. His father worked in a zinc factory, and his mother pressed clothing for a jacket company.
His father, who played semipro baseball, recruited his son to he his team’s batboy and bought him a baseball uniform bearing the name and image of Zeke Bonura, a slugging first baseman for the Chicago White Sox, resulting in his son’s nickname. (Baseball’s Zeke, actually named Henry John Bonura, evidently got his nickname in high school, when he was known as “Physique” for his impressive build.)
Bratkowski starred in the offensive backfield on Schlarman High School’s football team in Danville before gaining a football scholarship to the University of Georgia, where he was transformed into a quarterback by the Bulldogs’ coach, Wally Butts.
“Coach Butts worked with me before practice, during practice and after practice,” Bratkowski told the magazine Georgia Trend in 2008. “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.”
Playing at Georgia from 1951 to 1953, Bratkowski threw for 24 touchdowns and 4,863 yards and was also an excellent punter.
The Chicago Bears selected him in the second round of the 1953 N.F.L. draft as a “future” pick. When they signed him to a three-year contract in September 1954, George Halas, the Bears’ owner and coach, called him “the best quarterback in college ball in years.”
After his rookie season, Bratkowski served in the Air Force and then played with the Bears from 1957 to 1960. He was traded to the Rams in 1961 before being obtained by the Packers in October 1963.
Bratkowski played for Green Bay through the 1968 season, became an assistant coach with the team, then returned as Starr’s backup in 1971. He was later an assistant under Starr when he became the Packers’ head coach in 1975. In addition to the Packers and Jets, he was an assistant with the Bears, the Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts, the Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles
In his pro career he threw for 65 touchdowns and 10,345 yards and ran for five touchdowns.
In addition to his wife, who was born Mary Elizabeth Harman, he is survived by a son, Bob, who had been a longtime offensive coordinator in the N.F.L., mostly with the Seattle Seahawks and the Cincinnati Bengals; a daughter, Kathryn Bratkowski; a sister, Patricia Stitt; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Another son, Stephen, died before him.
Bratkowski was among several Packers from the Lombardi era, including Starr, to die in just over a year. The others included the lineman Forrest Gregg and the fullback Jim Taylor, who are both, like Starr, in the Hall of Fame.
Starr and Bratkowski studied game films together, conferred on the sidelines and became friends.
“Bart and I could play off each other,” Bratkowski told George Bozeka, the editor of “The 1966 Green Bay Packers” (2016). “It was like one single mind.”