MMQB Mail: Ex-Cardinal Plummer loves Idaho life, far away from NFL
In rare interview, Jake Plummer sounds perfectly content in Idaho
Plummer talks about his time in Arizona, the Bucs' recruitment and more
Reader questions include ones on Steelers fans, Matt Cassel and HOF
TAMPA -- The way Jake Plummer figures it, maybe the planets are aligning just right for his old team. His brother Brett told him the other day: "Can you believe it? We've got a black president, and the Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. Miracles do happen.''
"And,'' Plummer said Monday from his beloved Idaho, "a pilot just made a perfect landing in the Hudson River. Maybe it's all an omen. Maybe it's good news for the Cardinals. I hope so.''
Speaking from Sandpoint, Idaho, in a rare interview since he disappeared from football two years ago, the man the Cardinals drafted to get them to a Super Bowl talked about how incredible it was that the star-crossed franchise finally got there. He talked about quite a few other things: the Bidwills, the sport (handball) he's now passionate about, Pat Tillman, his odd post-Denver courtship by Jon Gruden, and his new job -- at least for now -- delivering meals-on-wheels to senior citizens in Sandpoint, a town of 7,500 in Idaho's northern panhandle, 50 miles from the Canadian border.
Plummer, 34, sounded great. There was no bitterness about anything; he sounded perfectly content -- volunteering, for now, to help the elderly and trying to get better at handball. Lots of athletes leave the game and squander their money because they can't get used to moving into the next phase of their lives at 35. Plummer has no idea where life will lead him, but he doesn't sound bothered by it at all.
Plummer did not watch the NFC championship game. He didn't see the team that made him its poster child a decade ago make the first Super Bowl in its history.
"I caught the highlights,'' he said, "but I had a handball tournament in Seattle.''
"I guess shock, like everyone else. And waves of emotion. Like, 'I wish I could have done that.' It's cool. I'm happy for them. I spent six years there, and the reins now have obviously been given to the right people.''
Aren't there a hundred questions you'd like to ask Jake Plummer?
Six years a Cardinal, four years a Bronco, and no years a Buc, much to Gruden's chagrin. Best buddy of Tillman. Jake the Snake. Unceremoniously replaced after the AFC championship loss to Pittsburgh in Denver by Mike Shanahan with the new kid, Jay Cutler. There were so many questions as I sat there Monday, I couldn't think of them all. But it seemed logical to start with this one:
Do you miss football?
"I miss throwing the football,'' he said. "But everything else, no. Being the quarterback for a football team, and everything that goes with it, no. I haven't woken up one day since I left with a strong desire to play. I'm just glad I got out of the game with my knees intact and my shoulders and back OK. I feel great.
"Sometimes, someone will say to me -- like my dad, when the Broncos had a Monday night game this year -- 'Hey, you watching the game?' And I'll say, 'Whoa, it's Monday. There's a game on. I totally forgot.' It's not something I arrange my schedule around, but sometimes I watch games."
Plummer knows what he wants to do for the rest of his life -- something in coaching, but not at any level higher than high school. Something with kids. "I really don't know what I'll do exactly," he said. "Right now I'm enjoying a sabbatical. I'm married, I'm happy, and eventually I'll do something with kids. Right now I've been helping World Professional Handball, trying to bring some attention to the sport. My whole deal is to get kids to put down the remote and get them out playing. As far as what I'll do, we'll see. I'm set for life [financially] and I'm really enjoying myself." Plummer also helps his wife with some volunteer work at the local humane society, is very active with the Jake Plummer Foundation and he volunteers at a local senior center.
He doesn't keep in touch regularly with many people in the Cardinals organization other than a couple of old friends from the training and equipment staff. He had an interesting career in Phoenix. In 1998, in his second season after succeeding Boomer Esiason as quarterback, Plummer captured the imagination of all of Arizona after a stellar career at Arizona State. He led a late-season rally for the Cardinals that culminated in a playoff berth and an upset victory over the Cowboys in a wild-card game. That's the only playoff game he would win in Arizona. The Cardinals' 35-63 record in his six years in the desert wasn't very good, but it was exciting.
"The years I was there," Plummer said, "it was always, 'Win for the stadium.' At least that's how it felt to me. You'd go into our offices after a big win and you'd see models of proposed stadiums, and you'd say, 'Oh. I see where all our energy is going.' That's what Mr. B [owner, Bill Bidwill] wanted. But I've got to give him and the organization credit. They held true to their promise. They said if they got their stadium they'd be on the way to building a championship team, and they have. So good for them. Good for all the people there."
I asked him how Pat Tillman would feel about the rise of the Cardinals.
"Oh, he'd love it," Plummer said. "He loved football. He loved Mr. B. Pat loved history. Pat and Mr. B would sit and talk at lunch about the old days of the Cardinals. Pat loved the old stories, and Mr. B would tell him about what it was like back in Chicago and then St. Louis, and I think Pat would love the fact that the team was finally playing for a championship."
Plummer wishes he had the weapons Kurt Warner has to work with. It's hilarious. Plummer is three years younger than Warner and he sits in Idaho sounding wistful. Warner steps back from center now and looks like he could play another five years. "I really like watching their offense. I've seen a couple throws this year where Kurt just heaves it and Larry Fitzgerald comes up with it way downfield. It looks like a football throwing contest. It must be a fun offense to play in."
A year after the Broncos drafted Cutler, they dealt Plummer, who had vowed to retire, to Tampa Bay. Even though Plummer's mind was made up, Gruden and GM Bruce Allen flew to Idaho to recruit Plummer to play again.
"That's what it was like -- a recruiting trip," Plummer said. "It was like when I came out of high school and colleges are trying to get me to come. They [Gruden and Allen] were feeding me all that crap, trying to get me to come. After they left, I was getting text after text telling me how much they wanted me. I even saw Gruden interviewed and at the end of the interview he looked at the camera and said, 'And if you're out there, Jake, we want you to play football, not handball.'"
Plummer admitted he thought seriously about giving it a try. But he liked his life in Idaho too much by then, and he decided to stay in seclusion, out of the game. That meant playing lots of handball and getting his body back to the condition it was before he entered the NFL. His last year in Denver, 2006, he weighed 215 and felt heavy. Now he's down to 193 and can dunk a basketball, which he used to do in high school. "At the end of my football career, I could hardly touch the rim," he said. "I just got caught up in all that stuff about bulking up, but I never felt it was necessary and I never felt it made me a better player."
Handball, he said, is a way to keep his competitive juices flowing. He has bonded with a lot of western handball players, who play the game for the love of the game instead of money. "It's the purest sport in the world," Plummer said. "Even the president [the President's Council on Physical Fitness] says it's a great sport to stay physically fit.
Plummer won't stop everything he's doing on Super Sunday to watch the game, but he said he'll definitely be tuned in. "I'll watch the game,'' he said. "It's in the middle of the afternoon, so that's a good time. But I'll probably TiVo it. I hate TV timeouts. When I played, they felt so long. It was like holding back a horse. You're out there, you want to play, and you have to stand around waiting.
"I TiVoed the game last year, but the last three minutes got cut off. I was a novice TiVo-er, and I recorded the game, but I guess it ran long, so there I was, watching the game and it just stopped. I was a little mad. The game was getting good. This year I'll make sure to TiVo the program after the Super Bowl."
I asked him one last question. Did he have anything to say to the people in Arizona who loved watching him play and, even through the lean years, always treated him like a hero for his days at ASU and the Cardinals.
"Hey," he said optimistically, "remember the good times. Remember the playoff win at Dallas. Remember that road win at Philadelphia. We had some good times there and we had some good wins. I really loved it there."
One more thing. "Enjoy the game. It's gonna be fun to see the Cardinals in the Super Bowl."