Jim Plunkett Reflects On Career, Legacy As A Raider

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Former Quarterback Jim Plunkett

By Katie Agostin

Jim Plunkett is known for leading the Silver and Black to two of their three Super Bowls, but his legacy transcends beyond the football field.

He helped pave the way for the Latino community as he became the first Hispanic Heisman winner, the first starting Latino quarterback to win a Super Bowl and to be named Super Bowl MVP. While Plunkett has accumulated several accolades throughout his football career, the journey wasn't an easy one.

Plunkett's football career started at James Lick High School in San Jose, Calif., where he played on both sides of the ball as a quarterback and defensive end. At James Lick, he helped the team earn the school's first championship in 1964 and later led the team to an unbeaten season as a senior.

His success on the football field gained the attention of several colleges. Although he was highly recruited in high school, Plunkett wanted to stay close to his parents, both of whom were blind, and decided to attend Stanford.

Plunkett didn't have the start he hoped for at Stanford. Early in his freshman campaign, he underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor in his neck and was slowed physically as a result. Stanford's coach John Ralston suggested he switch positions to defensive end, but Plunkett was determined to prove himself at a quarterback.

After redshirting in 1967, Plunkett got his first start the following year as a sophomore, setting a Pac-8 record with 2,156 yards, a mark that he broke the following season and again as a senior. As a junior, he set three Pac-8 records with 20 touchdowns, 2,673 passing yards and 2,786 total yards.

Plunkett stayed for his senior season and led Stanford to an 8-3 record and the Pac-8 title. His 2,715 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns as a senior earned him the Heisman Trophy in 1970.

In 1971, Plunkett entered the NFL Draft and was selected first overall by the New England Patriots. As a rookie, he led New England to its best record in five years, finishing 6-8. Plunkett was named AFC Rookie of the Year after completing 158-of-328 passing for 2,158 yards with 19 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. However, Plunkett's early success in the league soon hit a wall.

After a down second year in which the Patriots finished with a 3-13 record, Chuck Fairbanks replaced John Mazur as head coach and brought a new offensive scheme to the Patriots. Plunkett, who was never an option quarterback, found himself doing just that under Fairbanks.

Plunkett asked to be traded when his five year contract expired and ended up back in the Bay Area with the San Francisco 49ers. Plunkett couldn't produce the results he wanted to with the 49ers and was cut after two years.

"Being cut by the 49ers was the lowest point in my career," Plunkett said. "I was thinking of maybe getting out of football, go and do something else. Maybe the critics were right. [They said] I got burnt out, I got beat up, I couldn't play anymore, but I'm a very stubborn guy."

Plunkett was at the lowest point in his football career, but Al Davis and the Raiders gave him one more chance.

When starting quarterback Dan Pastorini was injured in Week 6 of the 1980 season, Plunkett entered at quarterback for the Raiders in Week 6 of the 1980 season. He spent the remainder of the season as the starting quarterback for the Silver and Black.

With Plunkett under center, the Raiders won nine of their last 11 games to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record, earning a postseason berth with a Wild Card spot. After defeating the Houston Oilers, the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers, the Raiders became the first wild card team to advance to the Super Bowl since the NFL adopted the new playoff format in 1978.

In Super Bowl XV, Plunkett gave the team a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and the Raiders never looked back, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10. With the title, Plunkett become the first Latino starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl and be named Super Bowl MVP. He also earned the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award after posting 2,299 yards on 165-of-329 passing with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in the regular season and 839 yards and seven touchdowns and just three interceptions in the postseason.

"Going with the Raiders I was allowed to do what I could do best and that's throw the football," Plunkett said. "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."

Three years later he guided the Raiders to their third Super Bowl title in eight years with a 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. Plunkett finished the game with 172 yards on 16-of-25 passing with one touchdown.

Plunkett retired from football following the 1987 season. While he's no longer on the field, Plunkett remains an asset to the Raiders organization.

Plunkett spent about 20 years doing preseason TV and radio after the late Al Davis brought him on board to work for the Raiders. Plunkett currently hosts a weekly segment with Nicole Zaloumis for Silver and Black Productions. For the segment, he helps highlight the Raiders upcoming matchup and breakdown big plays from the prior week's game.

"It keeps me in the game," Plunkett said. "I really enjoy being around the new players and the coaches. The game is always evolving so it's a chance for me to see what's going on in professional football. I really enjoy it immensely."

Plunkett also travels with the team, serving as a spokesman for the organization at games and events, and he recently served as an ambassador for the Raiders in Mexico City on Draft Day 3.

Plunkett has faced his share of obstacles throughout his journey, but because of his determination and the opportunity given by Davis to revitalize his career, Plunkett will forever be a Raiders legend and a trailblazer for the Latino community.

"I owe Mr. Davis a lot," Plunkett said. "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."

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