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Jim PlunkettJim Plunkett

record-setting quarterback for Stanford University

Jim Plunkett was born in San Jose, California, on December 5, 1947, the youngest of three children. He grew up in Santa Clara before his family moved back to San Jose to take advantage of cheaper housing. While growing up, Jim delivered newspapers and did other odd jobs to earn pocket money, but still had plenty of time for football.

A passing quarterback in junior high school, Jim went on to a stellar career as a quarterback for James Lick High School in San Jose. As a senior, he led his team to an unbeaten season, and played in the state all-star game. Heavily recruited by several major colleges, he chose Stanford primarily because of its excellent academic program.

Jim Plunkett during his Heisman Trophy-winning seasonPlunkett's first year at Stanford was seriously hampered (both physically and academically) by surgery for a benign neck tumor, which he underwent in August 1966. After a far-less-than-stellar freshman year, head coach John Ralston suggested that Plunkett become a defensive end. When Plunkett refused, Ralston redshirted him for the 1967 season. In 1968 (his official sophomore year), he threw for 14 touchdowns and set a Pac-8 record with 2,156 yards passing. In 1969, he set Pac-8 records for touchdown passes (20), passing yards (2,673), and total offense (2,786 yards), and ranked third nationally in total offense and fifth in passing. In 1970, he passed for 2,715 yards and 18 touchdowns, leading the Indians to an 8-3 record and a Pac-8 championship. His achievements that year led to his being awarded the 1970 Heisman Trophy (over Joe Theismann and Archie Manning). He then led his team to a 27-17 victory over previously unbeaten Ohio State in the 1971 Rose Bowl, completing 20 of 30 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown. By the end of his three-year college career, Plunkett had set NCAA records for most yards total offense (7,887) and most passing yards (7,554).

right: Jim Plunkett during his Heisman Trophy-winning season

Jim Plunkett as a New England PatriotPlunkett was the New England Patriots' first pick in the 1971 NFL draft. He then went on to lead them to a 6-8 season, the team's best record in five seasons, by passing for a total of 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns. It was little surprise when he was chosen AFC Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News.

Unfortunately, Plunkett was unable to repeat his rookie year performance in 1972. He threw only 8 touchdown passes, was intercepted 25 times, and was sacked six times in one game (at Pittsburgh). The Patriots only managed a 3-11 record for the season.

In 1973, John Mazur was replaced as head coach by Chuck Fairbanks, who introduced option plays into Plunkett's game. The change helped. In 1974, Plunkett passed for 19 touchdowns and led the team to a 7-7 record.

left: Jim Plunkett as a New England Patriot

Numerous knee and shoulder injuries kept Plunkett on the bench for much of 1975, and he asked to be traded at the end of season. Traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1976, he played two inconsistent seasons before being released just prior to the 1978 season.

At 30 years of age, Plunkett briefly considered retiring from the game, but just two weeks after his release from San Francisco he was signed to a three-year contract by the Oakland Raiders. Relegated to the third string, Plunkett didn't play at all in 1978, and threw only 15 passes in 1979.

Jim Plunkett as the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 1980, with the Oakland RaidersDuring training camp in 1980, he asked to be traded because he expected to have virtually no playing time again, but his request was ignored. Five weeks into the season, starter Dan Pastorini suffered a broken leg against the Kansas City Chiefs. Plunkett was put into the game rather than second-stringer Marc Wilson (who was considered too green), and threw 5 interceptions in the Raiders' 31-17 defeat. He started the next week, and completed 11 of 14 passes, with one touchdown and no interceptions, on the way to a 38-24 win over the San Diego Chargers. He went on to pass for 18 touchdowns and 2,299 yards during the remainder of season, during which time the Raiders won 9 of their last 11 games and earned a wild-card spot in the playoffs. He then led the Raiders to four post-season wins, culminating in a 34-27 victory over the Chargers in the AFC title game. His remarkable rise from third-string to winning quarterback led him to be named NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. As the 1981 Super Bowl MVP, Plunkett completed 13 of 21 passes, including all three Oakland touchdowns, and led the Raiders to a 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

left: Jim Plunkett as the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 1980, with the Oakland Raiders

Despite the Super Bowl win, Plunkett lost his starting spot to Marc Wilson, then regained it after Wilson was injured. In 1984, he led the Raiders to a Super Bowl win over the Washington Redskins, throwing for 172 yards and 1 touchdown. The 38-9 final score was the biggest Super Bowl victory margin to that time.

Plunkett made only 17 starts between 1984 and 1986, mostly because of injury, and sat out all of 1987 with a shoulder injury. He was released during the 1988 pre-season.

By the time Plunkett's professional career ended he had completed 1,943 of 3,701 passes for 25,882 yards, and thrown 164 touchdowns.

Jim Plunkett currently does post-game radio interviews and a weekly TV highlights show, and owns a Coors Beer distributorship in Stockton, California.

ESPN Classic

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This page was last updated on March 04, 2017.