Monday, November 27, 2000
Off the bench
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
Jan. 25, 1981 - The Philadelphia Eagles went Ker-Plunkett as the Oakland quarterback completed his triumphant resurgence. Ending an amazing season that took him from the bench (he didn't become the starter until Dan Pastorini suffered a broken leg in the fifth game) to MVP of Super Bowl XV, Plunkett threw three touchdown passes in the Raiders' 27-10 victory in the Superdome in New Orleans.
In the first quarter, on third down from the Eagles' two, Plunkett drilled a pass into the end zone to wide receiver Cliff Branch. Later in the period, he scrambled away from a blitz and hit running back Kenny King for an 80-yard touchdown that boosted the lead to 14-0.
Plunkett made sure the Eagles weren't going to come back when he drove the Raiders 86 yards in five plays after the second-half kickoff. His 29-yard touchdown pass to Branch increased Oakland's lead to 21-3.
Plunkett finished 13-of-21 for 261 yards without an interception as the Raiders became the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl. (Oakland, though, was not the first non-first place team to triumph as the Kansas City Chiefs had finished second in the AFL West in the 1969 season on their way to the Super Bowl crown.)
Odds 'n' Ends
Plunkett's parents were born in New Mexico, and met at a school for the blind.
Although they were conversant in English and Spanish, they spoke only English to their three children. They hoped this would help them be accepted more easily into American culture.
Growing up in northern California, Plunkett was big for his age and had a tendency to gain weight, but he was a good all-around athlete. At James Lick High School in San Jose, he participated in five sports: basketball, track, wrestling, baseball and football.
Plunkett was known for his intelligence as a quarterback. A political science major at Stanford, he maintained a B average.
In deciding not to turn pro after his redshirt-junior season, Plunkett felt he owed it to Stanford coach John Ralston and teammates to keep reaching for team goals, among them the Rose Bowl. "Besides," Plunkett said, "we are always telling kids today not to drop out, to finish school, to set targets and to work towards them. What would they think if I were to drop out now for professional football?"
Plunkett completed 55.1 percent of his passes in his three Stanford seasons (530-of-962). He passed for 7,544 yards and 52 touchdowns and rushed for 343 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Besides winning the Heisman Trophy in 1970, Plunkett also won the Maxwell Award and was a consensus first-team All-American.
Dallas Cowboys chief scout Gil Brandt on Plunkett at Stanford: "He sets up fast, throws very well, and he can take a beating. The name of the game is a guy who can play 14 games a season, not seven or eight."
Plunkett played every offensive down with the New England Patriots as a rookie in 1971.
Some NFL people thought Plunkett, who was slowed by a multitude of injuries in his pro career, was finished after his five years with the Patriots. "Injuries will make you look timid sometimes in the pocket," he said after his 1976 trade to the 49ers.
Plunkett's 99-yard touchdown pass to Branch against Washington on Oct. 2, 1983, tied the NFL record for longest pass play.
When his career ended before the 1988 season, Plunkett's 3,701 pass attempts ranked 20th.
In 1988, he received the Leukemia Society of America's first Ernie Davis Award, which goes to players epitomizing the character of the late Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse.
In 1991, Plunkett's 16 became the second number retired by Stanford's football program. Ernie Nevers' No. 1 was the first.
Plunkett is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame.
For more than two decades, Plunkett has hosted a golf tournament that has raised about $1 million for scholarship money for Stanford's athletic department.
Plunkett has been involved with several organizations, including the Boys' Club of America, Special Olympics, Boys Scouts of America, Christian Fellowship for the Blind and the National Hispanic Leadership Conference.
Plunkett was awarded the "Tradition of Excellance" award in 2000 for his successful career coupled with a strong record of humanitarian efforts. The award is presented by the Heisman Trophy and the Sports Humaitarian Hall of Fame.
Plunkett still lives in the Bay Area, in Atherton, with his
wife Gerry and their two children, Jimmy and Meghan.