Polish Championship Game: Wroclaw Panthers QB Bartek Dziedzic breaking barriers as a Polish signal caller

The Wroclaw Panthers look as good as any team in Europe right now. With a shutdown defense and a high-powered offense, they’ve rampaged through Poland and left opponents scrambling in their wake. Even when they traveled to Dresden for an exhibition game earlier this year, the powerhouse Panthers rolled over the import-less Monarchs with unprecedented ease. Though Poland is still widely regarded as a lesser European football power, the Panthers look good enough to compete with anyone on the continent and they are doing it in somewhat unusual fashion.  European success has long been dictated by the quality of your domestic talent, but this Wroclaw team is averaging more than 52 points per game under the leadership of a homegrown Polish quarterback.

While success without an import at the sport’s most important position isn’t unprecedented, Bartek Dziedzic is certainly the exception, not the rule. The longtime Panther has spent most of his time with the club as a receiver as the team cycled through a string of imports on their way to six straight Polish Bowl appearances. As a European quarterback, especially one from a non-traditional football nation, he has always been viewed as a gamble at the position, one that American coaches were unwilling to take.

“The biggest challenge I’ve had to face is earning the trust of the coaches. Unfortunately for every coach who comes to the Panthers, this is their job and they bet on a proven American quarterback,” Dziedzic explains. “I understand this because I know that the sponsors who give a lot of money to the club expect the best product and the best solution to that is a quarterback who played in the top divisions in the USA.”

That changed this year. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic posing a hurdle to international travel, Wroclaw only brought in a single American import, running back Ryan Tuiasoa, and the team’s first ever Polish born head coach Jakub Samel put his trust in Dziedzic under center. The results simply speak for themselves. In seven games this season, the 26-year old has thrown for 21 touchdown passes, a number that doubles the total of any other passer in the league. Now, he has his undefeated team positioned as the overwhelming favourites to win the Polish Bowl over the Bialystok Lowlanders.

Wroclaw Panthers defeated Germany’s Dresden Monarchs with Bartek Dziedzic at QB Photo: Łukasz Skwiot Fotografia Sportowa

For those who have watched Dziedzic’s career, none of this comes as a surprise. Considered by some to be the first legitimate European quarterback to come from a non-traditional country, Dziedzic has been the man at the helm of the Polish national team for years and was responsible for the country’s first ever victory on the international stage. It was a path that began at his father’s knee as a young child, thanks to a sporting fandom that his dad had picked up while living with family in Chicago.

“When I was a kid, dad watched NFL games a lot on TV. I remember one night, my dad let me and my brother watch the Super Bowl live. I can’t even remember which one it was because I was very young,” Dziedzic recalls. “My brother and I got so into football that night that the next day, my dad and I went to every sports shop in Wroclaw to find me my first football.”

That quest was successful and football quickly became a past time. Years later, the Wroclaw Crew launched a flag football program at his school and he jumped at the opportunity to join. By the time he graduated, Dziedzic was the signal caller for the National program. Since then, he’s seen the quality of Polish talent grow exponentially, something others around Europe are now realizing thanks to the added attention on the league due to COVID-19 cancellations elsewhere.

“When all the countries are playing, the Polish league does not attract that much attention. I understand that because in our league, we do not have a lot of equal game so we have nothing to attract these fans,” Dziedzic explains.  “I think we’ve treated this situation as an advertisement for Polish football. I think that even our game against Dresden was noticed by other European clubs and we, as players going to Dresden, knew that we had a unique opportunity to shape the history of European football.”

Polish players like himself have never been viewed as an international commodity, but Dziedzic believes that too is changing. This year, the Panthers sent the first ever Polish player to the US on scholarship, Mateusz Wojakiewicz, and that is just the tip of the developmental iceberg according to Dziedzic.

“We have a lot of athletes who, if they found the right coaches, would certainly be able to fight for scholarships at big universities in the USA and in Canada,” he says. “I think we only need a few more years and players from Poland will start to be viewed as good ‘export goods’ for European teams.”

Wroclaw Panthers QB Bartek Dziedzic looking downfield Photo: Wroclaw Panthers

The Panthers are at the very forefront of that change and Dziedzic believes the competitive atmosphere that the team has created is why they will be able to triumph over the Lowlanders on Saturday.

“We have a group of players who live for football. They devote every aspect of their private lives to being better on the field,” he explains. “Every year, we attract the best players from across the country to our team, which drives the competition for positions. Everyone knows that in the offseason they have to put even more time and energy into their preparations in order to stay on the roster and everyone derives a lot of enjoyment from that competition.”

For Dziedzic, nothing is guaranteed. Despite passing every test this season with flying colors, there is nothing stopping his team from going back to an American at the quarterback  position in the future. With the Panthers slated to join the new European League of Football and compete in Germany in 2021, the pressure may be even higher to find a quality import. Dziedzic is leaving those thoughts until after the final whistle has blown Saturday, but he remains grateful for the opportunity 2020 has given him.

“I am glad that this year I had the opportunity to prove myself and show that I can lead this team as well as any import quarterback,” he says.

Whether it is the start of a long run or the end of his stint under center, Dziedzic believes a Polish Bowl victory will cement his legacy as a Polish quarterback.

“The final game will really be the icing on the cake for me. After a successful regular season and a very successful playoff game, winning the championship as a starter will be my crowning achievement,” he says. “Who knows if I will ever have a chance to be the starting QB for Wrocław Panthers again, so I have to win it.”

Watch the game live here. Polish Championship Game: Bialystok Lowlanders v. Wroclaw Panthers, Saturday, November 14, 15:30 CET (09:30 ET, 9:30 am)

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.