Jim Plunkett: Remembering the Comeback Career

Chris DiLeoCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - UNDATED:  Quarterback Jim Plunkett #16 of the Los Angeles Raiders falls back to pass during a NFL game against the Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Jim Plunkett played for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1982-1986. (Photo by: Getty Images/Getty Images)

Jim Plunkett entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1971, and he faced high expectations coming out of Stanford University.

Plunkett was awarded the Heisman Trophy after his senior season in 1970, as he became the first college player to account for over 7,000 yards of total offense He also led the Cardinals to their first Rose Bowl appearance in almost 20 years, beating heavily favored Ohio State University.

Plunkett lived up to expectations his first year with the Patriots. The team improved from a dismal 2-12 record to a 6-8 record as Plunkett threw for 19 touchdowns and 2,158 yards. He was subsequently awarded rookie of the year.

Over the next three years, however, Plunkett’s career decayed. He threw only 40 touchdowns compared to 64 interceptions and was sacked 97 times. The Patriots record during this span was 15-27 with no playoff appearances.

This lack of progress led the Patriots to draft the legendary Steve Grogan in 1975. Plunkett was on a short leash, eventually being relegated to backup quarterback after week five.

The following season Plunkett was traded to San Francisco, where he played with the 49ers for the next two seasons. His performance was mediocre, managing a record of just 11 wins and 15 losses.

After Plunkett’s release from San Francisco, he joined the Oakland Raiders prior to the 1978 season.

Plunkett was signed strictly as a backup. In his first two years in Oakland, he threw a total of only 15 passes.

Entering the 1980 season, Plunkett was closing in on 33 years of age. His career seemed reduced to being a perennial backup. He appeared to be a big disappointment given the high expectations early in his career.

In 1980, however, destiny offered Plunkett a chance to prove he was a top-notch NFL quarterback. After Dan Pastorini was injured during game five, Plunkett was handed the starting quarterback job.

A rejuvenated Plunkett led the Raiders to a wild-card playoff berth. Three victories later, the Raiders were facing the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.

Plunkett threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Raiders to a 27-10 victory. Plunkett earned Super Bowl MVP honors, and lead the Raiders to becoming the first wild-card team to ever win a Super Bowl.

Plunkett suffered an injury plagued season in 1981, and the following year the Raiders moved the franchise to Los Angeles.

In a new city, Plunkett continued to play well in leading the Raiders to the playoffs in a strike shortened 1982 season. After losing in the second round of the playoffs, however, the Raiders decided to change quarterbacks the following year.

Once again, Plunkett appeared to be on the down side of his career as he was demoted to back up quarterback Marc Wilson.

After Wilson got injured, however, Plunkett once again had a chance to prove he was not too old for success.

Plunkett played like a young athlete in leading the Raiders to six wins in their last seven regular season games, and then taking the team all the way to Super Bowl XVIII to face the Washington Redskins.

At the age of 36, Plunkett led the domination of the Redskins. He threw for 172 yards and a touchdown in a 38-9 Super Bowl victory.

Plunkett spent the rest of his career with the Raiders as a backup. His 17 year career finally ended after a bad shoulder forced him to retire after the 1987 season, at the age of 40.

Perhaps Jim Plunkett would be remembered more favorably if he had retired after his second Super Bowl victory. However, his tenacious desire to play football kept him on the field for several more years, as he continually tried to make contributions despite his age.

It was this desire, however, that propelled Plunkett to make two comebacks in his roller-coaster career. He proved to many fans and athletes that with hard work and the proper motivation, age can be overcome in the NFL to achieve success.