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Valedictorian of Class of '71 : Jim Plunkett Has Outlasted a Remarkable Group

November 13, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

The world's, um, most veteran quarterback rose from the Raider bench last week to lead a Raider rally. Throughout America, a generation of aging Yuppies had the expected reaction:

Plunk went the strings of their hearts.

"He's a survivor," said a 37-year-old stockbroker named Archie Manning. "He's just an old warhorse."

The famous NFL draft class of 1971 is now down to two quarterbacks, Jim Plunkett, who will be 39 on Dec. 5, and Ken Anderson, now the Bengals' backup, who will be 38 in February.

All the other class of '71 quarterbacks are embarked on alternative careers. Remember the one who always had his hand up in class and could never shut up, Joe Theismann? He's a CBS announcer.

How about the kid who liked fast cars? That's Dante Pastorini, who's now on the drag-race circuit.

The down-home country boy with the red hair and freckles? That was ol' Archie, now a city slicker, working for the downtown New Orleans firm of Keegan Morgan after retiring from the quarterback biz after the '84 season.

"Jim went to New England on the first pick in the draft," Manning said from new Orleans. "I came to New Orleans on the second, and Pastorini went to Houston on the third pick.

"Lynn Dickey went to Houston on the second round. Ken Anderson went to Cincinnati on the third round. Theismann got drafted by Miami on the fifth round and went to Canada.

"There were more quarterbacks. Scott Hunter from Alabama went to Green Bay. . . . Joe Reed from Mississippi State went to the 49ers. Rex Kern from Ohio State got a lot of notoriety. I think he played defensive back in the pros. They called it the year of the quarterback pretty much until that group in '83. Believe me, 1983 is the year of the quarterback.

"I knew Jim pretty good. We went to a couple preseason All-America things before our senior year. I don't see that much of him but we're friends. . . . I think there was more of a rivalry between Pastorini and Jim. Dan had been in the shadow of Jim at Santa Clara. I don't think they were close.

"It all started with the Heisman Trophy. Going into our senior year, I guess a majority of people thought I was a notch ahead of Jim. I broke my arm and we got upset in a big game. Jim probably would have won anyway. He had a good year and they won the Rose Bowl.

"Jim had a pretty strong arm coming out of college but not an Elway-, Marino-type arm. I remember Jim had great touch. He was a classic pro quarterback. Stanford ran a classic pro system. I didn't know anything about the pro game. I was a sprint-out running quarterback. He was big. I promise you, I don't think Jim ran as well then as he does now.

"I'll be very honest, I was glad Jim was drafted first. We were all going to poor teams. If I had to go to a bad team, I'd just as soon be close to home.

"It's an ironic thing. Jim was the one who got traded first. His career looked like it was going to be over. (Plunkett was traded to the 49ers in 1975, waived before the '78 season and signed by the Raiders as a free agent.)

"The game has changed. Ten or 15 years ago, you had Fran Tarkenton, John Brodie, Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson still starting in their 17th-18th years. For one thing, they were great quarterbacks. No. 2, there weren't as many quarterbacks around. There weren't the (John) Elways, (Tony) Easons, (Jim) Kellys, (Ken) O'Briens. Plus the linemen and the linebackers got bigger. When you're 37-38, it's hard to take that punishment week after week.

"It used to be in the old days, the '50s and '60s, quarterbacks played golf in the off-season, showed up in training camp and got in shape. You can't do that anymore. These guys are huge, fast and they'll hurt you. I get the feeling Mr. (Jim) McMahon is finding that out now. If you want to play with reckless abandon, you've got to be in tip-top shape."

Punishment is nature's way of suggesting another life style. When Plunkett was 37, the 49ers' Jeff Stover drove him halfway to China, dislocating his left shoulder. Plunkett was still worrying about that one a year later. In all, he's had three operations on his shoulders.

"I didn't get one hit like that," Manning said. "I had to quit. I had a severed tendon in my elbow and I just couldn't make the throws.

"It was time. I was up in Minnesota, a long way from home. I was backing up Tommy Kramer in 1984. Tommy got hurt and we had the Bears the next week. They were just coming into their own with that 46 defense.

"I got sacked 11 times that day. The next week the Bears sacked all those Raider quarterbacks (knocking Marc Wilson out of the game, breaking David Humm's jaw, forcing Ray Guy to warm up before Wilson came back).

"I'll tell you, sometimes you get sacked 6-7 times but you get dragged down on three or four, or get tripped. I mean, these were 11 shots . I couldn't function at all. The next morning, I couldn't walk, I couldn't move, I couldn't practice.

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