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
Plunkett'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
Plunkett 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.
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.
During 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.
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
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 espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/Plunkett_Jim.html
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