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Plunkett with the San Francisco 49ers
|Born:||December 5, 1947|
San Jose, California
|Height:||6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)|
|Weight:||220 lb (100 kg)|
|High school:||William C. Overfelt, James Lick|
|NFL Draft:||1971 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at PFR|
James William Plunkett (born December 5, 1947) is a former American football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for sixteen seasons. He achieved his greatest professional success during his final eight seasons with the Raiders franchise, whom he helped win two Super Bowl titles.
A Heisman Trophy winner during his collegiate career at Stanford, Plunkett was selected by the New England Patriots as the first overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft. His tenure with the Patriots was mostly unsuccessful and led to him being signed by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played in 1976 and 1977. Released from the 49ers after he continued to struggle, Plunkett signed with the Oakland Raiders for 1978.
Initially serving as a backup for the Raiders, Plunkett became the team's starting quarterback during the 1980 season and helped them win Super Bowl XV, where he was named Super Bowl MVP. In 1983, Plunkett again ascended from backup to starter to assist the relocated Los Angeles Raiders in winning Super Bowl XVIII before retiring three years later. He is the only eligible quarterback with two Super Bowl wins as a starter not to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Plunkett was born to New Mexican parents with an Irish-German grandfather on his paternal side. Plunkett's father was a news vendor afflicted with progressive blindness, who had to support his blind wife along with their three children. Plunkett's parents were both born in New Mexico, both Mexican Americans ; his mother, whose maiden name was Carmen Blea, was born in Santa Fe and his father, William Gutierrez Plunkett, was born in Albuquerque. Carmen was also of Native American ancestry. His father William died of a heart attack in 1969.
The Plunketts moved to California during World War II. William Plunkett first worked in the Richmond shipyards. By this time, Jim's two older sisters, Genevieve (16 years older than Jim) and Mary Ann (5 years older than Jim) had been born; Jim was born in 1947, after the family had moved to Santa Clara. They later moved to San Jose where William ran a newsstand, and where they were able to find low-cost housing. The family lived in relative poverty, and received state financial aid. Jim and his sisters learned to work hard and do things for themselves as they grew up. They also helped Carmen with cooking and other household chores.
When Jim was growing up, the family's financial situation was a big problem for him. He did not like the area he lived in, often did not have money for dates, and avoided bringing friends to his house. He worked from an early age, cleaning up at a gas station while in elementary school, delivering newspapers, bagging groceries, and working in orchards. In his high school years, he worked during the summer.
Jim went to William C. Overfelt High School in the 9th and 10th grades and then transferred to and graduated from James Lick High School, both located in east San Jose, California. Plunkett showed his talent for tossing the football by winning a throwing contest at the age of 14 with a heave of over 60 yards. Once he arrived at the school, he played quarterback and defensive end for the football team. He competed in basketball, baseball, track and wrestling - earning a California High School Individual Wrestling Championship. Plunkett is on the Hall of Fame wall at James Lick.
Upon entering Stanford University, Plunkett endured a rough freshman campaign after being weakened by a thyroid operation. His performance originally caused head coach John Ralston to switch him to defensive end, but Plunkett was adamant in remaining at quarterback, throwing 500 to 1,000 passes every day to polish his arm. He earned the opportunity to start in 1968, and in his first game, completed ten of thirteen passes for 277 yards and four touchdowns, and never relinquished his hold on the starting spot. Plunkett's arrival ushered in an era of wide-open passing, pro-style offenses in the Pac-8, a trend that has continued to the present.
His successful junior campaign saw him set league records for touchdown passes (20), passing yards (2,673) and total offense (2,786). This display of offensive firepower led Washington State coach Jim Sweeney to call Plunkett "The best college football player I've ever seen." In his senior year, 1970, he led Stanford to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1952, a game that ended with a 27-17 Stanford victory over the heavily favored Ohio State Buckeyes.
With eighteen passing and three rushing touchdowns added to his 2,715 passing yards on the year (which broke his own conference record), Plunkett was awarded the 1970 Heisman Trophy. Plunkett beat Notre Dame's Joe Theismann and Archie Manning of Ole Miss to win the award. He was the first Latino to win the Heisman Trophy. Aside from the Heisman, he captured the Maxwell Award for the nation's best player and was named player of the year by United Press International, The Sporting News, and SPORT magazine. In addition, the American College Football Coaches Association designated him as their Offensive Player of the Year. He became the second multiple recipient of the W.J. Voit Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the outstanding football player on the Pacific Coast. Plunkett received the Voit Trophy in both 1969 and 1970. While at Stanford he joined Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity.
UCLA coach Tommy Prothro had called Plunkett the "best pro quarterback prospect I've ever seen", echoing Sweeney's words from the year prior. His excellent arm strength and precision made him attractive to pro teams that relied much more heavily on the passing game than most college teams of the late 1960s. In 1971, he was drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL draft by the New England Patriots (the team was still known as the Boston Patriots at the time of the draft; the name change to New England did not become official until March 21 of that year). Plunkett was the first player of Hispanic heritage to be drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. The Patriots finished the season at 6-8 for fourth place in the AFC East. Plunkett's first game was a 20-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots' first regular-season contest at Schaefer Stadium. New England also influenced the AFC East championship race, as Plunkett's 88-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to former Stanford teammate Randy Vataha on the final day of the season dropped the Baltimore Colts to a 10-4-0 record and into second place in the division behind the 10-3-1 Miami Dolphins. Two weeks before the Patriots defeated the Colts, Plunkett engineered a 34-13 victory over the Dolphins.
Plunkett's touchdowns dropped and his interceptions rose in the following seasons, however, and he struggled with injuries and a shaky offensive line for the rest of his tenure in New England. By 1975, the Patriots drafted Steve Grogan, who would become a fixture with the club for 16 seasons, and under the leadership of coach Chuck Fairbanks, New England's offense became more run-oriented, led by Sam Cunningham.
Prior to the 1976 NFL Draft, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for quarterback Tom Owen, two first round picks in 1976, and a first and second round pick in 1977. Plunkett led the 49ers to a 6-1 start before faltering to an 8-6 record. After a 5-9 season in 1977, the 49ers released him during the 1978 preseason.
Plunkett then joined the Oakland Raiders in 1978, serving in a reserve capacity over the next two years, throwing no passes in 1978 and just fifteen in 1979. However, five weeks into the 1980 season, his career took a major turn when starting QB Dan Pastorini fractured his leg in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The 32-year-old Plunkett came off the bench to relieve Pastorini, throwing five interceptions in a 31-17 loss. The Raiders, however, believing that Marc Wilson did not have the experience they wanted, called on Plunkett to start for the remainder of the year. In his first game as a starter, he completed eleven of fourteen passes with a touchdown and no interceptions. Plunkett guided Oakland to nine victories in eleven games and a playoff berth as a wild card. Plunkett led the Raiders to four playoff victories, including the first-ever victory by a wild card team in the Super Bowl, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV. Throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns, Plunkett was named the game's MVP; subsequently, Plunkett has the distinction of being the first minority to quarterback a team to a Super Bowl victory and the only Latino to be named Super Bowl MVP. In addition to this, he became the second of four players to win the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP, Roger Staubach before him, and Marcus Allen and Desmond Howard after him.
Later in his career, the Raiders moved to Los Angeles. After returning to the backup role in 1983, Plunkett again assumed starting duties, this time after an injury to Marc Wilson. The Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XVIII, where they defeated the Washington Redskins, 38-9. Plunkett completed 16 of 25 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown in the game.
Plunkett spent most of the 1984-1986 seasons either injured or as a backup, and missed the entire 1987 season following rotator cuff surgery. He retired during the 1988 pre-season as the fourth-leading passer in Raiders history. He holds the Raider record, and is tied for the league record, for the longest career pass, which occurred during a 99-yard pass play against the Washington Redskins on October 2, 1983. He retired as the only NFL quarterback to win two Super Bowls with the same franchise in different cities, winning his first while the Raiders were in Oakland and his second while they were in Los Angeles.
Plunkett is the subject of yearly debate about whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Proponents usually focus upon the simple fact of his two Super Bowl victories (together with one Super Bowl MVP) should be sufficient on their own, but also refer to the personal challenges he needed to overcome. Opponents point out that Plunkett has an even career win-loss record (72-72, although he was 8-2 in playoff games), and poor career statistics (he threw 198 career interceptions against only 164 touchdowns, and his career completion percentage was only 52.5%) - though quarterback statistics have changed dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s. He was never voted to a Pro Bowl during his career, nor was he ever selected as an All-Pro (first or second team). Similar debates had occurred in relation to Ken Stabler, another Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Raiders who missed getting elected into the Hall for many years until posthumously in 2016. However, Plunkett was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 in San Francisco, California, and finally the California Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 in recognition for both his college and pro football careers. Plunkett received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member Roger Staubach in 1981.
Interviewed in 2017, Plunkett complained of being in "constant pain" and discussed the effects of at least ten career concussions. Plunkett reflected that his life "sucks" as a result of his physical injuries.