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Sports Then and Now

Jim Plunkett: From Heisman Hero to Super Bowl Champion

Posted on November 13, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Jim Plunkett

It was 40 years ago that the November Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors and began a 16-year career that would include twice leading his team to the Super Bowl Championship.

After leading Stanford to the Rose Bowl Championship and winning the Heisman Trophy in 1970, Jim Plunkett was tapped by the New England Patriots with the first pick in the 1971 NFL Draft.

As a rookie, Plunkett helped the Patriots improve from two to six victories while passing for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Over the next four years, Plunkett showed glimpses of brilliance, but overall struggled on a young team that was slowly building through the draft.

Finally in 1975, Plunkett was replaced as starting quarterback by rookie Steve Grogan. Following the season, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for three first round picks and a second round selection.

Initially, the move looked like a good one for the 49ers as they jumped to a 6-1 start to the 1976 season. However, after losing in overtime to the St. Louis Cardinals, the 49ers dropped their next two games in close fashion (losing to Washington 24-21 and Atlanta 21-16).

They ultimately finished the season with an 8-6 record and then the next season were 5-9 as Plunkett tossed nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Plunkett was named MVP of Super Bowl XV.

After being released during the 1978 preseason, Plunkett was signed by the Oakland Raiders. He did not play in a game during the 1978 season and then threw 15 passes while seeing limited action in four games in 1979.

Entering the 1980 season, Plunkett was again relegated to the bench as the backup to new starting quarterback Dan Pastorini (who ironically had been chosen two picks after Plunkett in the 1971 draft). However, when Pastorini suffered a broken leg in the fifth game of the season and Plunkett was given one final chance to shine.

He made the most of that chance as Plunkett led the Raiders to a 9-2 record during the remainder of the regular season while passing for 2,299 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Then in the playoffs, Plunkett led the Raiders to three straight playoff victories (including a pair of wins on the road) to reach Super Bowl XV.

On the grandest stage in football, Plunkett completed his return from the abyss by passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns to win the Super Bowl MVP Award.

After going 2-5 in seven starts the next season, Plunkett was 18-4 as the starting quarterback for the Raiders during the 1982 and 1983 seasons.

The 1983 season culminated in a second Super Bowl title as the Raiders whipped the Washington Redskins 38-9. Plunkett passed for 172 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

Plunkett retired from the NFL following the 1986 season and while his career statistics are not Hall of Fame worthy, he was a true trailblazer as the first Latino player to win the Heisman, be picked first in the NFL Draft and to win a Super Bowl MVP award.

Overall, Plunkett posted a 72-72 record as a starting quarterback in the regular season (8-2 in the playoffs) while completing 52.5 percent of his passes for 25,882 yards, 164 touchdowns and 198 interceptions.

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