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Jim Plunkett Remains a Success Through Air

December 19, 1991|FRANK SOTOMAYOR | NUESTRO TIEMPO EDITOR

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Plunkett made the move from his Mexican neighborhood in San Jose to begin classes at Stanford University, launching a football career that would bring him almost every major award in the sport.

Plunkett, who ended his playing career with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988, remains active in football as a member of the Raiders radio broadcasting team.

Since last year, he has been a co-host of "Raider Talk," offering his comments and analysis before and after Raider games and taking calls from listeners on KFI-AM. "I really enjoy the interaction with listeners," Plunkett said.

Since early last month, when regular announcer Bill King underwent hip surgery, Plunkett has also been doing game coverage as a commentator alongside play-by-play broadcaster Rich Marotta.

Although Plunkett has also done some television broadcasting, the former athlete said he is most comfortable doing the Raiders on radio. "I feel an affinity for the team," said Plunkett, who spent nine years with the Raiders and led them to two Super Bowl victories.

Just the fact that he is a broadcaster today would have come as a surprise to even his most ardent fans when Plunkett was beginning his pro career and described himself as an introvert.

"Early on in my career, I was extremely shy," Plunkett recalled. But he took some speech classes at Stanford and "worked to be more outspoken." Now, he said, "I'm pretty outgoing," a fact that is obvious on the Raider broadcasts.

Throughout his career, Plunkett showed a toughness and determination to succeed, traits that he acquired early in life.

Plunkett's mother, a Mexican-American from New Mexico, was blind, and his father, who is of Irish, German and Mexican ancestry, had impaired vision. The young Plunkett took jobs early on selling newspapers and pumping gas to help the family.

"We lived on the Eastside, the Mexican and poorest section of San Jose," Plunkett recalled. "When the rent went up, we had to move farther east each time."

When Plunkett arrived at Stanford on a football scholarship, he had an unimpressive freshman year and later had to struggle to win the starting quarterback job. His coach, John Ralston, commented, "I never had a player who worked so hard to succeed."

During his senior year, Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation's top college player, and led Stanford into the 1971 Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl was filled with 103,839 spectators that day with Ohio State, coached by Woody Hayes, heavily favored. Ohio State led 17-7 with 10 minutes to play. But Plunkett's passing sparked Stanford to two late touchdowns to defeat the Buckeyes 27-17.

Plunkett had an outstanding first year as quarterback for the New England Patriots, but he and the team later fell upon hard times. Plunkett underwent five shoulder and knee operations (eight others were to follow later in his career). Finally, after having been booed by the Patriot fans, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers.

"At first I thought it was ideal, going back home" to Northern California, Plunkett said. "But it did not work out that way. I spent two years that I am still trying to forget."

Plunkett, at the lowest point of his career, was dropped by the 49ers in 1978. His playing days appeared to be over. However, the Raiders, then playing in Oakland, took him on. In the middle of the 1980 season, he became the Raiders' starting quarterback.

That team is "the one I am most proud of," Plunkett said. "It was struggling at the beginning of the season, but we got better and better. When we needed a big play, we got it from someone."

The Raiders, with a season record of 11-5, barely made the playoffs as a "wild card" team, but they went on to play in the 1981 Super Bowl. With Plunkett throwing a record 80-yard TD pass to Kenny King, the Raiders defeated Philadelphia, 27-10. Plunkett was named the game's most valuable player.

After the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, Plunkett guided the Raiders to another Super Bowl triumph, 38-9 over Washington in 1984. Tom Flores was the head coach in both of the Raiders' Super Bowl victories.

In August, 1988, when Plunkett, then 40, was unceremoniously given his walking papers by the Raiders, Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Downey wrote: "Jim Plunkett went out the way he came in--with style."

Today, Plunkett lives in Atherton, near Stanford, with his wife, Gerry, and their two children, Jimmy, 8, and Meghan, 6.

As he looks back on his football career, Plunkett said: "I wish it had gone more steady. I suffered a lot of setbacks, played for bad teams, but I'm glad I wound up with the Raiders--and won two Super Bowls."

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