Two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP for the Oakland Raiders Jim Plunkett joined an illustrious group of Californians including director Steven Spielberg and poet Gary Snyder in a ceremony usually reserved for movie stars at the induction of the 11th class of the Hall of Fame.
Plunkett, who turned 70 on Dec. 5 (1947), the day he joined nine other inductees chosen by Gov. Edmund Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown was hailed as one of California’s exemplary in a ceremony held at the California Museum.
Not to be confused with the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, which some would say, controversially, Plunkett, also the first starting NFL quarterback of Latino descent, has not been inducted, the California Hall of Fame recognizes achievements from all walks. The Governor congratulated Plunkett for his achievements on-and-off the football field.
Plunkett, who attended the event with his wife, Gerry, was raised in northern California, San José. The youngest of three kids (two older sisters), Plunkett often helped his father, William Plunkett, at his newspaper stand.
He led the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XV (1977), when the Raiders earned a postseason berth as a wildcard, and in XVII (1980). Plunkett was 31 years old during his first Super Bowl victory and earned the Most Valuable Player nod. The Raiders’ second victory with Plunkett, at age 36, was when the team moved to Los Angeles. He earned Comeback Player of the Year after his second victory.
As a youngster Jim often walked with his mother, Carmelita, also known as “Carmen,” a Latina of Mexican descent, who was blind. William, who was also legally blind, died while Jim played at Stanford University.
“I think I’ve shown that no matter what your background is, no matter what your nationality is, you can exceed at whatever you set out to do,” Jim Plunkett said during the red carpet event at the California Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“As a poor kid from San José, I worked hard to get to where I was, and it paid off. I think it shows a lot of kids in the same situation that they can do the same thing.”
Before sporting then-AFL (American Football League) jerseys, Jim won the Heisman Trophy for his collegiate performance at Stanford University. He redshirted at Stanford in 1967 and in his sophomore season (1968), he passed for 14 touchdowns and accumulated 2,156 yards.
After college he was the No. 1 draft pick chosen by the New England Patriots. He played one season for the San Francisco 49ers (1976 to 1977) before landing with the Raiders from 1978 to 1986.
It only took a moment for Plunkett to answer what stands out after his long journey.
“The people I played with, the coaches I met and played for. They’re still a big part of my life,” he said.
“I’ve made some great friendships over the many years. I got to play a game and get paid for something that I really love since I was a young boy. It’s a great way to earn a living and have fun doing it.”
The faces of the 14 kids and chaperones from the Modesto Raiders Youth Football and cheer teams glazed in anticipation of meeting Plunkett on the red carpet. With his wife beside him, Plunkett waved then greeted the kids and signed footballs, jerseys and event programs.
He also had advice for kids: “Just work at whatever you set out to do. It doesn’t have to be football, doesn’t have to be basketball, you name it. You can do whatever you set your mind to. It’s not about sports, it’s about life.”
“I think hopefully with this that Jim Plunkett will actually get the vote for the NFL Hall of Fame. He deserves it. He’s a person that’s broken a lot of glass ceilings in the NFL as far as being the first Mexican-American quarterback to win an NFL championship, the Super Bowl,” said George Martínez, a fan whose son, Bradley, 9, had a Raiders’ helmet signed by Plunkett.
“And to do it (two Super Bowls) twice; an MVP, to win a Heisman Trophy and be a role model to so many kids. I think he should be in the NFL Hall of Fame.”
“He really took the Raiders to a different level; he made it happen two times,” said Martín Cisneros, a chaperone to the Modesto Raiders, “I really didn’t know he was Latino. Hopefully they will put him in the (NFL) Hall of Fame.”
“I think it will really happen after this,” added Robbie Dod, a Modesto Raiders chaperone.
“It’s a tremendous honor. The people I’m being inducted with have all done so well in their specialty fields. I’m quite honored to be part of this,” said Plunkett.