September 7, 1981
Confidence shaken, I a nearly forgotten Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and former NFL No. 1 draft pick waits by the phone. When a call comes, it's an NFL coaching legend offering him a job as a backup. He jumps at the chance to go back to work and leads his new team to the playoffs. Sound familiar, New York Jets fans?
Long before Bill Parcells brought in Vinny Testaverde to quarterback the Jets, the Raiders' Al Davis plucked Jim Plunkett off the trash heap. The year was 1978, and Plunkett was eight years removed from winning the Heisman as a Stanford senior. He had been drafted No. 1 in '71 by the New England Patriots and had won the rookie of the year award. Then his career spiraled downward. After being cut by the San Francisco 49ers in '78, Plunkett, now 51, says, "My confidence was at an alltime low. But I knew if I got into the right system I could excel. I had won big games in college and knew I could do it in the pros."
Plunkett proved that in Oakland (and later Los Angeles), taking the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles. He was the MVP of a 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Supe XV and led the silver and black to a 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins in XVIII. Plunkett retired from the Raiders in 1988 and now lives in Atherton, Calif., minutes from the Stanford campus, with his wife, Gerry, and their two children, Jimmy, 15, and Meghan, 14.
Plunkett owns a beer distributorship and often appears on Raiders postgame radio and TV shows, but for him the best memories are of Palo Alto. "My time in college has always been a source of strength," says Plunkett, who led Stanford to a victory in the 1971 Rose Bowl over heavily favored Ohio State. "My closest friends are still from my college days."
Plunkett, Stanford's only Heisman winner, has dedicated himself to paying back his alma mater. For 20 years his charity golf tournament has raised scholarship money for the athletic department. Funds from the tournament have provided one full ride in football, women's volleyball and women's golf for each of the last five years. To date, Plunkett's efforts have raised close to $1,000,000. "I just want as many kids as possible to have the growing experience in college that I did," he says.