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Spunky Plunkett : At 38, He's Not Out There Just for the Fun of It; He Expects to Challenge for Starting Quarterback Job

July 24, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

OXNARD — It's a good summer for institutions. The Statue of Liberty is 100. Jim Plunkett is 38.

Both are sound again and back in the news. Lady Liberty had a gala birthday party. Plunkett has been promised a shot at regaining the starting job he lost in last season's third game, when the 49ers' Jeff Stover planted him at midfield in the Coliseum.

Actually, Plunkett says he has been promised the second shot, behind Marc Wilson. Raider starters are normally given their jobs back after they return from injuries, but nothing is automatic for aging quarterbacks with backups who have $4 million contracts.

On the other hand, the Raiders don't usually--ever?--put the quarterback job up for grabs in camp. They say they are doing it now, although the message is getting through slowly. Rusty Hilger, told nothing directly, wasn't sure he'd be allowed in the competition, although Raider officials say he is, indeed, in it.

And Plunkett, told that it will be a competitive situation, wonders.

"I talked to Tom (Flores) before mini-camp," Plunkett said Wednesday. "He said they're going to go with Marc right now. But he said he was going to make training camp competitive, whatever that means.

"I felt like I got off to the best start of my career last year. I still want to play and start. I wouldn't be here at my age if I didn't think I had a chance of that.

"All I can ask for is an opportunity. If they give it to me, then I think that would be fair on their part. If they don't, I'd think it was not so fair.

"I can appreciate how Marc feels. When I came here, not the first year but the second, I felt capable of playing ahead of Snake (Ken Stabler), but I was never given the chance. (Plunkett didn't get the job until Stabler was traded for Dan Pastorini and Pastorini was injured.) I'm sure Marc felt the same way, that he never got a chance.

"If it is competitive--for me, that's an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it kind of situation.

"I'd have to approach preseason in a different way. Before if I played poorly, it didn't matter too much. So now what are we going to do? Throw on every down?

"Are they going to call the plays? If they call the plays, as far as I'm concerned, that limits me and what I can do."

The answer is yes, they're going to call the plays. Flores started that after Plunkett was injured and says he'll continue. This will be a departure for Plunkett. Flores noted that he may be the last quarterback playing who has never had his plays called for him anywhere.

What brings Plunkett back? Before Stover arrived atop that left shoulder, it had already known four separations, a rotator cuff tear and three operations.

"So it was a new injury," said Plunkett, with the smallest of grins.

"My wife came down to the locker room. She'd been through all three of my separations and the rotator cuff tear but I'd always gotten up. This shook her up a little. A lot, actually.

"She came down to the locker room, sobbing. She rode in the ambulance with me," he said, showing the little grin again. "But we stopped and got a six-pack of beer. Then we stopped at McDonald's and got burgers. Because I know what hospital food is like."

For a week, surgery seemed likely. Plunkett, who has never conceded anything to Father Time, said that would have finished him.

"I don't think I could have had surgery and rebounded very well. Mentally more than physically."

The shoulder began to heal on its own. Plunkett even returned to practice. By season's end, he was even ready to play, but he wasn't re-activated. Flores said that he didn't want Wilson looking over his shoulder.

The Raiders were then upset by the Patriots in the playoffs. Now Flores doesn't mind if Wilson looks over his shoulder.

"(Not being activated) was hard to accept, sure," Plunkett said. "But they don't say much, as you well know.

"This situation? I'll make the best of it. I have a lot of pointed feelings. But if I tell you, it kinda gets blown out of proportion.

"If the situation had been different last year, if things had gone better for Marc, my being here would be academic. But I didn't have the surgery, and things went the way they went, and they wanted to re-sign me."

How did his wife Gerry take it?

"She supported me. She knows I like to play. But we talked about it. If I don't, she'd be just as happy. Of course, she has some concern.

"So do I. I'd die if that happened again. Because it hurt. But I've talked to the doctors and they say the chances of doing that are no more than they were before I ever did it.

"I've got to see how the first hit feels and go from there. And we start off against the Niners again."

Those are the 49ers, who cut Plunkett, supposedly ending his career, in 1978. What goes around comes around, and in Plunkett's case, around and around. Where it stops is still a matter of conjecture.

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