One of the biggest injustices in the history of the NFL, in my opinion, is the fact that the Oakland Raiders' former great quarterback, Jim Plunkett, has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. When speaking with Raider fans, Plunkett is one of the names that comes up the most as deserving of the honor, despite the fact that there is a glaring gap in the Hall of Fame where the silver and black #16 jersey should be.
With the NFL Draft this week, I was reminded of both Plunkett and another famous quarterback, John Elway, who both were drafted out of Stanford University. Both players won two Super Bowls and were named Super Bowl MVP, yet Elway has been inducted into the Hall of Fame and Plunkett has not.
Plunkett's rise to fame was a much more difficult one than that of Elway's, and the fact that he achieved so much in spite of what he faced signals a much greater strength than the former Bronco ever had.
As many Raider fans know, Plunkett's parents were both legally blind. The family struggled to make ends meet and Plunkett delivered newspapers to earn money while he still found time to achieve success both at school and in football. In his freshman year at Stanford, he had to have surgery to remove a benign tumor on his neck, slowing his progress. By his junior year, however, Stanford coach Jim Sweeney proclaimed him, "The best college football player I've ever seen."
John Elway, on the other hand, grew up with father Jack Elway, a successful football player and head football coach at both Stanford and San Jose State. Although it may have been difficult to live up to Dad's expectations, he certainly didn't have the financial struggles that Plunkett had to face in childhood and his father also came with a lot of connections.
Plunkett was eligible to enter the NFL Draft after his junior year but turned down the opportunity to set a good example to the Chicano youth he had tutored, passing up the huge paycheck. In his senior year in 1970 he led his team to their first Rose Bowl since 1952 and was drafted with the first overall pick with the New England Patriots in 1971.
Elway did not take the Cardinal to a bowl game but was selected as the first overall pick in 1983 by the Baltimore Colts. In addition to his success in college football, he'd spent some time playing in the minor leagues for the New York Yankees, and because he didn't want to be a part of the Baltimore team he threatened to join the Yankees full time unless the Colts traded him and he became a member of the Denver Broncos.
Elway, of course, went on to lead Denver to two Super Bowl titles and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times, with a rather smooth ride to his induction into the Hall of Fame in the class of 2004.
Plunkett had a much bumpier ride on the way to his great achievements. His first year with the Patriots was fairly successful and he was named the AFC Rookie of the Year. In subsequent years, the Patriots' weak offensive line resulted in Plunkett taking a beating and he quickly faded suffering from a number of injuries.
In 1978, Plunkett joined the Raiders after a short failed stint with the San Francisco 49ers. With Oakland, he became what he should have been all along, and what the Silver and Black allowed him to be, becoming a Super Bowl champion twice and a Super Bowl MVP.
The Raiders' late owner Al Davis remarked, "He has to be one of the great comeback stories of our time."
Yet, Elway is in the NFL Hall of Fame and Plunkett is not. To me, Plunkett deserves the honor far more than the man who whined his way to Denver. When I asked Plunkett last month his thoughts on being excluded, as I wrote following our conversation on March 12, he answered, "It's up to the voters. I had a great career and two Super Bowl wins. If I don't get in, I don't get in."
Of course, Raider Nation knows who the true champ is in our hearts, and that will always be Plunkett. One of the best men, and best players to ever step foot onto a football field.
K.C. Dermody grew up in the Bay Area of California, and has been an Oakland Raiders fan for her entire life. She has continued her loyalty to the team through its many ups and downs over the decades, and has been privileged to meet several of her favorite players, including famed quarterback, Jim Plunkett. Follow her on Twitter @kcdermody or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kcdermodywriter.
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