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WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
CHRIS BALLARD
February 14, 2011
YOU HAVE TO WONDER WHY A RED-BLOODED AMERICAN MALE IN HIS PRIME WOULD WALK AWAY FROM FAME AND FORTUNE AS AN NFL QUARTERBACK TO PLAY HANDBALL AND HANG WITH HIS FAMILY AND HIS DOGS. DON'T YOU?
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February 14, 2011

What Was He Thinking?

YOU HAVE TO WONDER WHY A RED-BLOODED AMERICAN MALE IN HIS PRIME WOULD WALK AWAY FROM FAME AND FORTUNE AS AN NFL QUARTERBACK TO PLAY HANDBALL AND HANG WITH HIS FAMILY AND HIS DOGS. DON'T YOU?

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Then again, while he was in Denver, Plummer also started that Alzheimer's foundation. (His grandfather Elwood Davis died of the disease.) He went to the animal shelter to walk dogs. (Upon leaving Denver, he wrote the shelter a personal check for 10 grand.) He befriended a boy who lost his father on 9/11, and he continued calling the boy and his sister for five years. Still, all that many fans saw was his public demeanor. "I don't react the best way every single time to certain situations," Plummer told The New York Times then, "but I think people see that I'm genuine and true, and they appreciate that."

His teammates certainly did. Running back Mike Anderson told The Denver Post, "He puts on no airs. I love the guy. I'd go to battle for the guy every day of the year."

From the start, however, Shanahan and Plummer clashed. One wanted complete control; the other thrived only if not subject to it. "Shanahan used to kill me," says Plummer. "If I was 23 of 30 with two touchdowns, he'd say, Why didn't you go 25 for 30 with three touchdowns? I was like, We're beating someone by 21 points, how much more do you need to beat them by?"

Plummer needed an escape, and he found one when he began receiving letters that said, "We know about your dad. You should come down to the Denver Athletic Club and play handball." So he did. There, a bunch of old-timers beat the crap out of him—which, of course, Plummer loved. "It was so cool," he says. "They wouldn't take it easy on me. I was the quarterback of the Denver F------ Broncos, and it didn't matter. It was great."

So in February and March, after the NFL season, he'd play for hours at the DAC. When Broncos workouts rolled around and the team started running sprints, Plummer would coast in, not even breathing hard. "What the hell have you been doing?" his bent-over teammates would ask.

"Playing handball," he'd reply.

Those same guys from the DAC now travel to Jake's tournament. So do another 100-plus recreational players and a dozen or so of the best pros in the world. Despite this, the tournament is exceedingly low-key. The day before it begins, there are no signs or fliers at the athletic club in Coeur d'Alene. Asked who is in charge, the club manager says simply, "Jake."

This is not an exaggeration. Plummer actually runs his tournament. He lugs in groceries, wheels in kegs, sets the match schedule and brings Gatorade to the players. Sometimes he does all this while cradling his four-month-old son, Roland, in one arm, though not like a football.

Around him swirl old men in goggles, scarily fit women in spandex, and sweaty, unshaven guys with knee braces. Handball calls to mind seniors with sun-wrinkled backs swatting at balls on New York City and Miami blacktops, and there are plenty of those types, men with hands like shovels, creased and calloused. The pros, however, are young and for the most part superbly conditioned. None make a real living off the sport—the only one on hand who tries is top-ranked Dave Chapman, and he runs clinics and sells DVDs. The game is top-heavy; while Plummer is one of the top 200 players in the world, in terms of talent he is the equivalent of a Division III player competing against NBA stars.

When it comes to enthusiasm, however, Plummer has few peers. Here he is at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, flitting between matches and marveling at the play. Now he's at Court 3, pointing at a skinny blond guy with a buzz cut. "This kid here, he's one of my favorites. When he started, someone gave him a pair of yellow work gloves, like you'd use for digging a ditch, and they'd fall off when he hit, so that's why he's always hitting with closed hands. Watch!"

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