Also like Montana, Plummer has shown that he can set aside his field general's persona and mix well with teammates away from the game. Through practical jokes, self-effacing comments and a general refusal to take himself too seriously, Montana counteracted his commanding game-day presence and put teammates at ease. In comparison Plummer tends to expose more of himself, sometimes literally. Whereas Montana was known to sneak out of meetings in training camp and decorate the trees with his teammates' mountain bikes, Plummer, while at Arizona State, sometimes stepped out of the locker-room shower and did the Chicken Dance-bunching his wet hair atop his head so that it stuck straight up, flapping his arms wildly and making chicken noises, au naturel. "I did it because it made Juan Roque laugh his ass off every time," Plummer says, referring to the 6'8", 320-pound offensive tackle now with the Detroit Lions. Tillman recalls being awakened at 1 a.m. in his dorm room at the Sun Devils' August training site in northern Arizona "by a buck-naked guy with a clown mask making weird noises and pounding on everyone's bed with a big stick. But Jake has a pretty, shall we say, distinctive body type, so everyone knew it was him."
In terms of debunking one's own legend, not even Montana ever produced the kind of signature scene that Plummer did in a game against the New Orleans Saints. While standing on the Superdome sidelines, Plummer was captured by Fox-TV cameras placing his index finger inside his nose. The tight shot lasted several seconds as Jake snaked his finger around one nostril. Back home in Boise, many of Plummer's friends and family members had gathered at a tavern to watch the game and were simultaneously exhilarated and mortified. Says an apologetic Marilyn, "It was every mother's worst nightmare. He has a little bit of an allergy problem, and living in the desert really dries it out. Really, it was more like he was scratching. For his birthday, one of his friends gave him a box of Kleenex with a sign on it that said, 'Only to be used on national television.' "
Plummer is sitting on the floor of a Tempe hotel room, penning his name, along with the snake symbol that has been part of his signature since college, to 2,000 trading cards. For this two-hour endeavor Plummer will receive $10,000. "Can you believe this?" he says. "It's like highway robbery. It takes my brother Eric, who's a roofer, about four months to make that."
The disparity could be a lot worse—and probably will be down the road. Jake's agent, Leigh Steinberg, says Plummer "has turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsements since joining the Cardinals. We have kept a lid on his marketing because it makes no sense to put him on every billboard at this stage of his career."
But Plummer, who as a senior led the Sun Devils on a stirring season-long run that ended with a last-minute Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, has little chance of keeping a low profile. Since the Cardinals moved from St. Louis in 1988, they have been without a bona fide hero. With 10 nonwinning seasons, chronically poor attendance and an uninspiring parade of starting quarterbacks—among them Gary Hogeboom, Timm Rosenbach, Tom Tupa and Jay Schroeder—the Cardinals created a vacuum for Plummer to fill.
Thirty minutes after drafting him, the team opened the box office at its Tempe training facility to accommodate a surge of ticket requests. When Plummer made his first start, against the Tennessee Oilers last Oct. 26, there were more than 5,000 walk-up sales. After Arizona went three-and-out on its first possession, Plummer received a standing ovation.
"He's like a god," says second-year wide-out Chad Carpenter, one of Plummer's closest friends on the team. "We go to a restaurant and people stand up and clap when he walks by. No wonder he's a hermit."
There is another, more painful reason Plummer rarely ventures out past the dinner hour when he's in the Phoenix area. In April 1997, just days before he was drafted, Plummer was investigated by the police on sexual-assault charges stemming from an incident the previous month at a Tempe dance club. Four women accused Plummer of groping them, and one claimed he kicked her in the leg after she confronted him in the parking lot. Charged with four counts of felony sexual abuse and one count of misdemeanor assault, Plummer, worried about the publicity a trial would bring, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in lieu of assault and had the felony charges dropped. He was sentenced to two years' probation and 100 hours of community service; in March, after Plummer completed the community service, a Maricopa County judge placed him on reduced-supervision probation. Plummer also reached a settlement with three of the women.
Plummer, who admits he was drinking that night, says he learned a hard lesson about the hazards of celebrity. So did his mother. "We don't know what will happen to those girls in their lives, but I'll bet it won't be good things," says Marilyn. "What they did was unscrupulous for women in general and a setback to so many women's rights we have fought really hard to get. It was so ludicrous what they alleged. I know Jake, and he's a very respectful person."
Foster Robberson, an attorney who represented the three women with whom Plummer settled, declined to comment. But the mother of one of the women, who does not wish to be identified, says, "My daughter and the other girls went through hard times with the public criticism from the media. This situation was not about money or getting rich. It dealt with the dignity and self-respect they needed to uphold. The public seems to forget that the girls were innocent victims. They were not looking to be in the spotlight. Basically, the past is behind them. Yet the image of Jake Plummer will always be there. Why is it his agents, lawyers and mother are constantly protecting his image? It sounds like Mrs. Plummer is still working on Jake's image."