Jim Plunkett, Football Champion
Posted on 04/25/2011 @ 06:06 PM
James William "Jim" Plunkett (born December 5, 1947 in San Jose, California) is a former American football quarterback who played college football for Stanford University, where he won the Heisman Trophy, and professionally for three National Football League teams: the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He led the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories (XV and XVIII). He is the only eligible quarterback to start (and win) two Super Bowls without being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Plunkett was born to Mexican American parents with an Irish-German great-grandfather on his paternal side. Plunkett's father was a news vendor afflicted with progressive blindness, who had to support his blind wife along with their three children. In an effort to aid the family's financial situation, Plunkett worked a series of odd jobs while growing up, including serving as a gas station attendant, grocery store clerk and as a laborer on construction sites. In an acknowledgement of his Mexican roots, Plunkett chose the fictional character of Zorro as his hero.
Jim went to William C. Overfelt High School in the 9th and 10th grades and then transferred and graduated from James Lick High School both of which are located in East San Jose, California. Plunkett showed his talent for tossing the football by winning a throwing contest at the age of 14 with a heave of over 60 yards. Once he arrived at the school, he played quarterback and defensive end for the football team, with his athletic ability also helping him compete in basketball, baseball, track and wrestling.
Upon entering Stanford University in , Plunkett endured a rough freshman campaign after being weakened by a thyroid operation. His performance originally caused head coach John Ralston to switch him to defensive end, but Plunkett was adamant in remaining at quarterback, throwing 500 to 1,000 passes every day to polish his arm. He earned the opportunity to start in 1968, and in his first game, completed ten of thirteen passes for 277 yards and four touchdowns, and never relinquished his hold on the starting spot. Plunkett's arrival ushered in an era of wide-open passing, pro-style offenses in the Pac-8, a trend that has continued to the present.
His successful junior campaign saw him set league records for touchdown passes (20), passing yards (2,673) and total offense (2,786). This display of offensive firepower led Washington State coach Jim Sweeney to call Plunkett "The best college football player I've ever seen." After his junior year, Plunkett became eligible to enter the NFL draft, which would have given him a chance to earn a large roster bonus for himself and his mother. He passed up the chance at a paycheck, however, so that he could set a good example to the chicano youth he had tutored. In his senior year,1970, he led Stanford to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1952, a game that ended with a 27-17 Stanford victory over the favored Ohio State Buckeyes.
With eighteen passing and three rushing touchdowns added to his 2,715 passing yards on the year (which broke his own conference record), Plunkett was awarded the 1970 Heisman Trophy and the pml award given annually to the top college football player in the country. Though he had set so many records on the season, 1970 had been the "Year of the Quarterback," and Plunkett beat out Notre Dame's Joe Theismann and Archie Manning of Ole Miss to win the award. He was the first Latino to win the Heisman Trophy. Aside from the Heisman, he captured the Maxwell Award for the nation's best quarterback and was named player of the year by United Press International, The Sporting News, and SPORT magazine. In addition, the American College Football Coaches Association designated him as their Offensive Player of the Year. He became the second multiple recipient of the W.J. Voit Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the outstanding football player on the Pacific Coast. Plunkett received the Voit Trophy in both 1969 and 1970.
Before Plunkett entered the NFL, he played in James Lick High School, and is in their hall of fame wall in the James Lick gymnasium, also UCLA coach Tommy Prothro had called him the "best pro quarterback prospect I've ever seen", echoing Sweeney's words from the year prior. His excellent arm strength and precision made him attractive to pro teams that relied much more heavily on the passing game than most college teams of the late 1960s. In 1971, he was drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL draft by the New England Patriots. Plunkett owns the distinction of being the only player of Hispanic heritage to be drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. The Patriots finished the season at 6-8, fourth place in the AFC East.
Plunkett's first game was a 20-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots' first regular-season contest at Schaefer Stadium. New England also influenced the AFC East championship race, as Plunkett's 88-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to former Stanford teammate Randy Vataha on the final day of the season dropped the Baltimore Colts to a 10-4-0 record and into second place in the division behind the 10-3-1 Miami Dolphins. Two weeks before the Patriots defeated the Colts, Plunkett engineered a 34-13 victory over the Dolphins.
Plunkett's touchdowns dropped and his interceptions rose in the following seasons, however, and he struggled with injuries and a shaky offensive line for the rest of his tenure in New England. By 1975, the Patriots drafted Steve Grogan, who would become a fixture with the club for 16 seasons, and under the leadership of coach Chuck Fairbanks, New England's offense became more run-oriented, led by Sam Cunningham.
In 1976, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and led the team to a 6-1 start before faltering to an 8-6 record. After a 5-9 season in 1977, the 49ers released him during the 1978 preseason.
Plunkett then joined the Oakland Raiders in 1978, serving in a reserve capacity over the next two years, throwing no passes in 1978 and just 15 passes in 1979. However, five weeks into the 1980 NFL season, his career took a major turn when starting QB Dan Pastorini fractured his leg in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The 33-year-old Plunkett came off the bench to relieve Pastorini, throwing five interceptions in a 31-17 loss. The Raiders, however, believing that Marc Wilson did not have the experience they wanted, called on Plunkett to start for the remainder of the year. In his first game as a starter, he completed eleven of fourteen passes with a touchdown and no interceptions. Plunkett guided Oakland to nine victories in eleven games and a playoff berth as a wild card. Plunkett led the Raiders to four playoff victories, including the first-ever victory by a wild card team in the Super Bowl, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 27–10 in Super Bowl XV. Throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns, Plunkett was named the game's MVP; subsequently, Plunkett has the distinction of being the first minority to quarterback a team to a Super Bowl victory and the only Hispanic to be named Super Bowl MVP. In addition to this, he became the second of four players to win the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP, Roger Staubach before him, and Marcus Allen and Desmond Howard after him.
After returning to the backup role in 1983, Plunkett again assumed starting duties, this time after an injury to Wilson. The Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XVIII, where they defeated the Washington Redskins, 38-9. Plunkett completed 16 of 25 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown in the game.
Plunkett spent most of his last three seasons either injured or as a backup. He retired after the 1986 season, and is currently the fourth-leading passer in Raiders history.
Currently, Plunkett does a post-game radio show of Raiders games, and is a co-host of several Raiders TV shows. A feature film based on his life is in the works.