Born in Los Angeles, Pawlawski played college football at the University of California and led the Golden Bears to a 10–2 record and a #8 national ranking in 1991. He was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the eighth round of the 1992 NFL Draft, playing one season for the team.
After spending 1993 and 1994 out of football, Pawlawski signed with the Arena Football League, playing his inaugural season with the Miami Hooters then the next five with the Albany Firebirds, where he established several league records. Pawlawski finished his career with the San Francisco Demons of the XFL, where he led his team to an appearance in the league championship. He was one of only three quarterbacks (Tommy Maddox and Jim Druckenmiller being the other two) to last the whole XFL season without being injured or losing their job. It was later revealed, however, that Pawlawski had played the season with a fractured vertebrae in his neck. It ended his football career.