When Jim Plunkett came to the Oakland Raiders in 1978, he was beaten up physically and beaten down mentally after seven seasons with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.
Nobody who saw him would have believed that he would quarterback the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories in the coming seasons.
Managing General Partner Al Davis signed Plunkett and told him to simply take care of himself for a while and he didn’t even practice with the team at first because they were set at quarterback with Kenny “The Snake” Stabler and David Humm.
“I owe Mr. Davis a lot,” said Plunkett, who played the last nine seasons of his career with the Raiders in Oakland and Los Angeles. “He signed me and although I had other offers, I didn’t want to leave California again and go somewhere else. He provided me that opportunity and then my job was to take advantage of that opportunity, and fortunately, I did.
“Going with the Raiders I was allowed to do what I could do best and that throws the football. It put me in a situation where I could help them win being surrounded by the talent they had back in those days. It was a great time for me personally because I proved the critics wrong and it was a great time to be a Raider, there was no doubt about it.”
Incredibly, Plunkett was not the starting quarterback all season in the two years he led the Raiders to victory in the Super Bowl.
In 1980, the Raiders obtained quarterback Dan Pastorini in a trade with the Houston Oilers, but in the fifth game of the season, he sustained a broken leg in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 32-year-old Plunkett came off the bench and threw five interceptions in a 31-17 defeat, but then he led the Silver and Black to nine victories in the next 11 games to earn a wild card berth in the NFL playoffs with an 11-5 record.
Then the Raiders, with Plunkett at quarterback, defeated the Houston Oilers, 27-7, and the Cleveland Browns, 14-12, in the first two rounds of the playoffs before upsetting the San Diego Chargers, 34-27, in the AFC Championship Game.
In Super Bowl XV, Plunkett passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns in another upset, 27-10, over the Philadelphia Eagles and he was selected the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“Going on to play Philadelphia in the Super Bowl, a team that beat us, 10-7, on a cold, windy morning in Philly earlier that year during the regular season, we got our revenge,” Plunkett said. “Defensively, we stuffed them pretty good. Offensively, we were able to come up with big plays during the course of the game to help beat the Eagles and win the Super Bowl.
“It was a tremendous thrill and satisfaction after taking over the team in ’80 and leading them to a Super Bowl victory. I was very proud of that fact.”
Three years later, Plunkett again was the backup quarterback for the Raiders, having been benched in favor of younger Marc Wilson, but he was back in the starting lineup when Wilson sustained a broken left shoulder.
“It was amazing what three weeks off did for him,” Coach Tom Flores said of Plunkett. “He was like a new guy. He was fresh, crisp, he moved better in the pocket. It was like he had a shot of adrenaline or something.”
Plunkett started the last 13 games of the regular season, with the Raiders winning 10 of them to finish with a 12-4 record to win the AFC West title.
In the playoffs, Plunkett led the Raiders to a 38-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and a 30-14 win over the Seattle Seahawks, before they trounced the favored Washington Redskins, 38-9, in the Super Bowl XVIII as Plunkett completed 16-of-25 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown.
Plunkett is the only eligible quarterback with two Super Bowl victories not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He passed for 25,882 yards and 164 touchdowns in his career, and rushed for 1,337 yards and 14 touchdowns, although his detractors point out that he also threw 198 interceptions.
However, 117 of those picks came with the Patriots and 49ers, and only 81 with the Raiders.
In addition, he had an 82-82 record as a starter, but was 38-19 with the Raiders, and had an 8-2 record in the playoffs.
“Jim Plunkett had the biggest heart, the most courage of anybody I ever played with,” said Raymond Chester, the great tight end who had two stints with the Raiders in his career. “He had a great throwing arm, but he looked bad, even ugly out there sometimes.
“But he was so tough and he could make plays, big plays. He had the will to win.”
Before becoming a star at Stanford, Plunkett also had to change people’s minds.
Plunkett, who was a star quarterback and defensive end at James Lick High in San Jose, suffered through a difficult freshman season with the Cardinal, being sidelined by a thyroid operation.
Before heading home to San Jose for the summer, Plunkett was told he was being switched to defensive end and to bulk up to at least 250 pounds. Instead, Plunkett sneaked into the equipment room and grabbed a sack of footballs.
In addition to eating and working out to get down to about 210, Plunkett threw hundreds of passes a day that summer to strengthen his already strong arm. When he returned to Stanford, they saw what he had done and immediately made him the sixth-string quarterback.
However, Plunkett was clearly the best quarterback on campus during preseason workouts and by the first game of the season, he was the starter.
San Jose State kicked off into the end zone to open the game and Stanford took over at the 20-yard-line. On the first play, Plunkett dropped back and threw a rocket down the right sideline that wide receiver Gene Washington, the former starting quarterback and a future star wideout with the San Francisco 49ers, caught on his way to an 80-yard touchdown.
Plunkett completed 10-of-13 passes for 277 yards and four touchdowns in a 68-20 victory over San Jose State and led the Cardinal to a 6-3-1 record that season, but the best was yet to come.
The following season, Plunkett led the Cardinal to a 7-2-1 record, and in his senior year, Stanford went 9-3-1, captured the Pacific-8 Conference championship, and upset second-ranked Ohio State, 27-17, in the Rose Bowl.
Plunkett connected of 20-of-30 passes for 265 yards and a clinching 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randy Vataha in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl and was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player.
But the awards were only beginning.
Plunkett was named winner of the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award, the Sporting News Player of the Year Award, and the UPI Player of the Year Award, so the Patriots made him the first pick of the 1971 NFL Draft.
After struggling in the early years of his career, Plunkett again showed was he was made of when he came to the Raiders.
It’s an old saying, but Jim Plunkett is living proof that you can’t keep a good man down.
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