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QB Survey: Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett bucked the odds

2/6/2015

Before they were trailblazers joined at the hip at the heart of Silver and Blackdom, Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett were simply quarterbacks -- guys who played the most important position in team sports, albeit in decidedly different eras.

The Oakland Raiders' icons -- Flores was the franchise's head coach for two of its three Super Bowl championships and Plunkett was under center for both of those teams -- were among 128 current and former QBs polled in our ESPN.com NFL Nation survey that delved into that age-old question: Where do quarterbacks come from?

I spoke with both Flores, the first QB in Raiders franchise history, and Plunkett, as well as current San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, to understand their backgrounds -- not only in terms of the schemes they played in high school [Flores played the wing-T in Sanger, California, while Plunkett ran a pro-style offense at East San Jose (California) Lick], but also their family life.

"I was Mexican-American before anyone knew what a Hispanic was," Flores said with a laugh.

Plunkett, too, identifies himself as the son of "Mexican-American" parents, his father legally blind and his mother totally blind.

Both said they grew up "lower class," an anomaly for pro quarterbacks, with Flores working the Central California fields.

Speaking to them about the position was like looking at a snapshot in time. Nowadays, high school QBs spend thousands of dollars on instructional camps or personal training. Neither Flores, the oldest of two children, nor Plunkett, the youngest of three, spent a dime on personal QB training before high school, they said. Both played three sports in high school.

While being a minority during eras when most QBs were white might have been seen as a hurdle, neither let it stop them. Flores said he received four scholarship offers coming out of Sanger High, which would later name its stadium after Flores, ultimately choosing the University of the Pacific. Meanwhile, Plunkett chose Stanford over 20 other offers.

Yet upon arriving on campus, Stanford coach John Ralston wanted Plunkett to change positions.

"Defensive end," Plunkett said. "But I had a goal and asked him to let me stay and show him I could do it."

Three years later, Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1971 NFL draft by the then-Boston Patriots, two years after AFL lifer Flores played his final game.

They came together in Oakland after Plunkett washed out in New England and San Francisco and was contemplating retirement. Together they won Super Bowl XV, when Flores became the first minority coach to win a Lombardi Trophy and Plunkett the first Latino to garner Super Bowl MVP honors. They did it again in Super Bowl XVIII three years later as the Los Angeles Raiders.

Flores has four rings, one as Len Dawson's backup with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1969 and one as an assistant on John Madden's staff in 1976, along with his two as the Raiders' head coach. Plunkett has an AFC rookie of the year award and an NFL comeback player of the year nod on top of his two rings and Super Bowl MVP.

Where do quarterbacks come from? In the cases of Flores and Plunkett, hardscrabble beginnings that did not deter them from reaching their goals. Perhaps a better question might be: How have these two, with their stories and successes, not garnered more support for inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?