I went from being a bad quarterback to being a good one," he says now.
"I didn't. I've always been a good quarterback. It's just like when O.J.
first went to Buffalo. Everybody said he was a failure, but he just didn't have
a team that could let him do what he could do best. Or like at L.A. now—they're
good enough it doesn't matter who the quarterback is.
situation that has changed. My career wouldn't have had all these peaks and
valleys if I'd been with Oakland for 10 years. You know who I feel for? I feel
for Archie Manning. He's a nice guy and a hell of a quarterback, and if he'd
been with Pittsburgh all along and Bradshaw had been with the Saints, Archie
would be the star and Pittsburgh still would have won those Super Bowls. It's
the team you're with that matters."
his fingers again. Harry is gone and the sun is dipping below the pine and
walnut trees out back. Plunkett's girl friend, Gerry LaVelle, with whom he has
been living for several years, is busy in another room preparing clothes for a
fashion show she's putting on at Stanford the next day. Lively and athletic,
Gerry is at ease in a way the brooding, easily rattled Plunkett seldom is.
Raised in Cleveland, Gerry met Plunkett in the mid-'70s in Boston while he was
still with the Patriots. The two are protective of each other—Plunkett was
upset when news of their living arrangement nearly kept Gerry from being
accepted into a women's club; it's Gerry's recorded voice that answers
Plunkett's phone—but they also play with each other's foibles. During
Plunkett's bad days Gerry would sometimes announce his entrance into a room by
saying, "Here comes old Crabby."
is never comfortable plumbing his depths for others. Though always courteous
(he won a congeniality award from Boston press photographers while he was with
New England), he grows edgy during interviews, chopping his words, sometimes
falling silent because, he says, he can't bear talking about himself
If he has
difficulty with the notion of a comeback, he has no problem contemplating
frustration and failure, the imminent collapse of things, guilt. Players have
realized this about Plunkett. Says Raider Safety Burgess Owens, "I've
always felt all he needed was to be a little cocky." Or as John Ralston,
Plunkett's head coach at Stanford, once said, "Jim has taken so many blows
from life he just can't get hold of a normal view of the world."
"Am I tired
of all this?" Plunkett says, meaning the mythmaking, the Comeback, the
media barrage (his picture is on the cover of at least five magazines this
month), the dissection of his life. "Yes. No. I'm tired of being called
Cinderella. I'm very tired of that. But the press has to write about something,
don't they? I'm not upset. They can call it a comeback or anything they
want." He nods his head in thought. He has latched on to an obvious
know," he says, "I could have failed in that first game against the
Indeed. It was
Oct. 12 of last year, and the Raiders were 2-3 and heading nowhere. San Diego
was in first place in the AFC West. Dan Pastorini, Oakland's first-string
quarterback, had broken a leg the week before, and rookie Quarterback Marc
Wilson was too green to send in. That left the Raiders with Plunkett, the
shell-shocked vet who hadn't started a game in 2½ years, who in 1978 had been
picked off the NFL scrap heap by the Raiders when no other team wanted him.
Called gun-shy, paranoid, conservative, damaged and finished at times during
the previous five years, Plunkett seemed to be on a permanent R&R program
at Oakland, a plan designed by Managing General Partner Al Davis that seemed to
have little purpose other than to soothe the player's psychic and bodily wounds
before a quiet release into civilian life.
performed masterfully against San Diego, completing 11 of 14 passes. One pass
went for a touchdown and Plunkett threw no interceptions as the Raiders won
38-24. With Plunkett in charge Oakland won its next five games and 12 of its
next 14, including the AFC championship rematch against San Diego. Plunkett
threw deep, he threw short, he ran for critical first downs, he was on a
And then, two
weeks after the San Diego win, Plunkett was sitting in the Super Bowl locker
room in New Orleans, victorious, the champion of the world, Up from Nowhere,
King for a Day, the Most Valuable Player of the game with 13 completions in 21
attempts for 261 yards, no interceptions and three touchdowns (including a
Super Bowl record 80-yarder to Kenny King) in the Raiders' 27-10 victory over
Philadelphia. All around him were his loudly celebrating teammates: 6'8",
275-pound John Matuszak, who once slugged a man a foot shorter and 100 pounds
lighter than he; Lester Hayes, the human glue jar; Bob Chandler, the frail,
golden-tressed White Boy; verbose graybeard Gene Upshaw, according to some a
future mayor of Oakland; Al Davis, the genius-villain boss with the Lords of
Flatbush hairdo and the L.A. eyes.