"Jim has the
absolute wrong mentality for a quarterback," says his good friend Bob
Moore, who caught five of Plunkett's passes in the '71 Rose Bowl. "I think
he sets his sights so high that anything less becomes a trauma. Now a guy like
Ken Stabler—who I played with at Oakland—there's the perfect quarterback
mentality. Stabler could throw eight interceptions this week and go out and
throw eight touchdowns next week. He didn't care about the past; it was all
right now. As long as he got his check, he was fine."
onto the field. He got in line and took his turn like everyone else, throwing
to whichever receiver came up. After a while he and Lofton matched up. The
receiver, a tall, loping, All-Pro burner, headed upfield. Plunkett, feet
suddenly weasel-quick, dropped back. He looked left—not with one of those phony
twitches most quarterbacks pick up in high school and hang on to forever—but
with a studied, thoughtful scan. No one there. He looked right. No one there,
either. He looked straight ahead and saw Lofton, streaking.
who could throw a football 85 yards at age 17, who has been called as good a
thrower as anybody ever, "including Sammy Baugh," by New England
General Manager Bucko Kilroy, one of the most respected talent appraisers in
football, launched a giant parabola that intersected perfectly with Lofton's
outstretched fingers, far away. No matter that Lofton dropped it.
Elway was among
those watching. Blond, handsome, unscarred, smiling ("He's always
smiling," Plunkett would say later), Elway may have a heck of a football
career, but he'll never throw a pass like that at a moment like this. It's not
his fault that he'll never have the history to do it.
For years now it
seems there have been only two kinds of pro quarterback: "Christians,"
the God-fearing, decent, home-loving men who put the load squarely in Jesus'
lap (the Zorns and Bartkowskis); and "Good-Timers," the late-night,
boozing, wenching party animals who forget the load until game time and then
rely on whatever's handy—skill, deception, anger—to pull them through (the
Namaths, Kilmers, Stablers).
is an anomaly, being neither a Bible-thumper nor a bright-lights guy. (Oh, he
did get a drunk-driving ticket about a year ago near Atherton, but that was
just one night and the depression was pretty keen.) Everybody in the NFL needs
something to believe in (Jesus is popular for many reasons, not the least of
which is His assumed compassion for those subject to bad reads and arm
tackles), and Plunkett is no exception there. But what he believes in is
Stanford was good
to him at the beginning when things were tough—when he was a pimply-faced,
crew-cut mope wandering the campus with his head down (from the neck surgery).
And when they were fine—when he and Moore and Vataha and Safety Jack Schultz
and Wide Receiver Jack Lasater and Center John Sande and all the others made a
vow before the 1969 season was even over that they would stay at school during
the following summer, work out together, beat USC and UCLA the next year and
win the Rose Bowl. And they did.
where things fell into place, where beauty and enlightenment were offered even
to a poor kid like Plunkett, where athletes could be jocks but read books, too.
(Plunkett's Rose Bowl team produced several doctors and lawyers.) Plunkett
liked Stanford's wooded grounds ("Oaks are my favorite," he says), and
he liked his wacko fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. "It was an 'Animal House,'
" recalls Brian Hewitt, a former Delt and now a Chicago sportswriter.
"Even a quiet God-squadder like Jeff Siemon used to throw forearm shivers
into doors and toss darts at people's backs. But Plunkett never did any of
that. He was never in trouble. He was a nice guy who stuck out because he was
so unobtrusive." Plunkett even liked the school hospital, going back to
have his surgery performed there while a pro.
Stanford offered peace and stability, and for that Plunkett is still grateful.
It is why he now lives just a short drive from the campus, even though it means
a long commute to Oakland practice. It is why he gave his $5,000 Super Bowl MVP
check to the athletic fund, and why the night of the Super Bowl win he left a
Raiders party to celebrate with old Rose Bowl chums at a private room above a
New Orleans restaurant.
It is also why on
a recent Tuesday afternoon, with Gerry LaVelle commentating, Plunkett modeled
some sports clothes before a crowd of strawhatted, wealthy, tittering women,
members of the Cardinal Club, the women's athletic fund-raising group. He was
embarrassed, spinning around in tennis shorts, with that big caboose on
display, saying "Hi, folks," and blushing, but he did it. It was for
Stanford, and as Cavalli says, "He's never turned us down for