Plunkett overcame hardships to win two titles

Jim Plunkett revived his career to lead the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles in the '80s. Sylvia Allen/NFL

Two Super Bowl championship rings. One Super Bowl MVP. A Heisman Trophy and an education from Stanford University. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1971. A legend who played for the one the NFL's most storied franchises, the Raiders.

With a resume like this, Jim Plunkett's career must have been just one glorious moment after another.


Despite the glowing list of accomplishments, nothing came easy for the quarterback, who seriously contemplated retirement after washing out early in his career.

But the son of two legally blind parents gave it one more try after signing with the Raiders, the NFL's home for wayward stars in the 1970s and 1980s. Backing up Ken Stabler and Dan Pastorini would be a cakewalk compared to the beatings he had taken -- on the field and off -- earlier in his career with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.

However, in 1980, a funny thing happened on the way to clipboard immortality.

"Pastorini broke his leg, and I had my shot," Plunkett recalled this week. "Heck, I didn't even know I had it in me to go out there and play at a high level in this league."

Having inherited a 2-3 team, Plunkett led the Raiders to a wild-card berth in the playoffs and eventually Super Bowl XV against the Philadelphia Eagles. The fairy tale got its happy ending when Plunkett connected on two early touchdown passes and the Raiders' defense clamped down on Ron Jaworski for a 27-10 win. Plunkett walked off the Superdome field with the MVP award and a one-of-a-kind story.

Plunkett won a second Super Bowl title for the Raiders three seasons later -- against the Washington Redskins -- to stake his claim as the Raiders' favorite son.

"I love the Raider Nation. Those folks stuck with me, and I think we paid them back for their loyalty," Plunkett said. "Winning those two Super Bowls are a memory none of us will ever forget."

Despite suffering through more aches and pains than a professional bull rider, Plunkett remains active in his post-football career. He runs a beer distributorship in Northern California, gives corporate speeches and even has dabbled with some Raiders TV work in the postgame locker room.

The most famous No. 16 in the Bay Area is Joe Montana. But to the folks across the Bay Bridge in Oakland, Plunkett's black and silver No. 16 remains sacred.

Rudy Klancnik is a freelance writer based in Texas.