The Heisman Trophy will be awarded this weekend to the best player in college football, and I had a chance to speak to a former recipient of college football’s top honors, Jim Plunkett. Plunkett had quite an interesting football career. He was super-hyped coming out of Stanford, he won the Heisman in 1970, and he was selected by the New England Patriots with the first overall pick in 1971.

Plunkett started 14 games for the Pats in 1971 and completed just 48 percent of his passes while compiling a record of 6-8. The following year, Plunkett threw eight touchdowns and 25 interceptions, and lost 11 out of the 14 games he started. Plunkett struggled with injuries over the next few seasons, and in 1975, the year the Patriots drafted Steve Grogan, Plunkett was traded to the 49ers. Plunkett’s tenure in San Francisco started well (he led the team to a 6-1 record), but the Niners tailed off and Plunkett was released by the team during the 1978 season.

With his career teetering on journeyman status, Plunkett was picked up by the Raiders in 1978. He served as a backup that year and barely saw the field the following season. When QB Dan Pastorini broke his leg a few weeks into the 1980 season, Plunkett stepped in, led the Raiders to nine wins in 11 games, helped the team earn a wild card berth in the playoffs. He went on to lead the Raiders to a 27-10 victory over Dick Vermiel’s Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Plunkett was 33 years old. He was the first QB to lead a wild card team to Super Bowl victory, and he became the first (and only) player of Latin-American descent to win the Super Bowl MVP.

Plunkett would return to a backup role before an injury to Marc Wilson forced him into the top spot on the depth chart again in 1983. Plunkett responded by leading the Raiders 10 wins in 13 games. The Raiders made the playoffs again and served up a blowout victory over the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.  Plunkett’s the only NFL QB with two Super Bowl victories to not be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He currently does post-game radio shows and tons of TV work for the Raiders.

During our interview with Plunkett, we chatted about this year’s Heisman trophy ceremony, Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Raiders’ owner Al Davis, today’s pass-happy NFL offenses, his pick for who will take home the Heisman this year, and whether he thinks college football needs a playoff system.

CS: So you won the Heisman Trophy back in 1970.

JP: Back in the Dark Ages, yes.

CS: Can you tell us what it’s like to belong to such an elite fraternity of college football greats?

JP: Well, obviously it’s a great feeling to be chosen among so very few. It’s started in 1935, the first Heisman award, and now they’re up to 76 that are coming up this year. It’s a great feeling, you know. You were selected among so many other certainly very viable athletes back when, for me 1970. Any number of people could have won that, but you were chosen because of what you did on the football field and how you carried yourself off the field. It really means a lot to me as it does to all the other recipients over the years.

CS: Now people are calling Stanford QB Andrew Luck one of the best NFL QB prospects to come out in years, and some coaches said the same thing about you back in the day.

JP: Right.

CS: Do you think Luck is ready to make a big splash in the NFL and what’s it like dealing with those high expectations going in to your pro career?

JP: Well you know number one, yes I do really, truly believe that Andrew Luck is probably the best passing quarterback in college today. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I see him almost every week. I was at the Oregon State game. I go to most of the home games, sometimes a road game or two, and he’s head and shoulders above everybody. As far as just passing the football ,there are other quarterbacks who could probably run better obviously, but he runs pretty well as well. He’s got a great feel for the game, a great feel for what’s happening around him and he reads the defense extremely quickly and more often than not goes to the right receiver. He’s got a great arm. He can throw off balances almost as well as he can when he’s stepping into the throw because he’s got that great arm strength. He anticipates well. He’s got some innate abilities. He can sense pressure, get out of trouble, take off and either run or give himself more time by shuffling around. He’s just a great kid and he’s a great football player and it’s just fun to watch the way he executes out there. That being said, whenever you go somewhere, expectations are always high when you’re a front pick if that’s what Andrew will be – and I’m sure he will be, he might even be the very first pick. So when somebody steps into that kind of situation, they’re always scrutinized very heavily, especially if you start off right away. You get paid a lot of money and professional fans in particular expect results right away. That doesn’t always happen but he’s a lot like… there’s a kid over at Saint Louis, I just can’t remember his name right now, out of Oklahoma – San Bradford – who won the Heisman a couple of years ago. He’s in that mold. He’s in the Manning mold, Eli and Peyton. He’s just ahead of his time so to speak. But yeah, I mean you get in the NFL, you usually go to a team that has not had a great season, so they’re not probably as good as some other team you might go to. Sometimes it’s a learning curve, it’s a process. You get beat up a little bit. You take your lumps, and hopefully when all the dust settles, you’ll have made progress. Sooner or later you’ll be the quarterback they’ve drafted you to be.

CS: How can fans participate in this year’s Heisman trophy ceremony process?

JP: Well I think the best way is to go to It will give you the information whether you want to come as an individual, buy a table, be a sponsor, there are different levels. It’s a great event to attend. You get to see some of the greatest football players arguably of all time, some great former Heisman winners. I know a lot of the guys go. I’ve gone to the last three. I go in streaks. I can’t make them all as I do work for the Raiders during the season. But it’s a fabulous event to watch, especially if you have kids, take grandchildren. It is just a lot of fun to be there, to see them, to talk to them, to hear them talk, get autographs at times, it’s just a wonderful experience. I’ve sent some people here from California where I live – I live over by Stanford – out to the Heisman. Sometimes through some of the raffles we’ve had out here, to make them part of the thing. One of my best friends has gone back twice. They’ve enjoyed the experience so much. So I highly recommend it. Come out and see some of these great former athletes and have a great time.

CS: Now you did a lot of great things for the Raiders; I just wanted to ask you is Al Davis misunderstood?

JP: Oh yeah, he’s … I think he is at times. He’s done a lot for the game. He’s done a lot for the Raiders obviously but for the game in general. He believes in the integrity of the game, he’s fought a lot of the changes that have occurred, but unfortunately he’s been on the losing battle on some of those. He has not had much success as of late unfortunately. Part of it I think is his health. I used to enjoy him coming on the field and talking with the guys and talking with me and really getting into people’s psyches so to speak. Go to the All Star games and watch these athletes up close and personal. He can’t do that anymore. Now he’s got to learn about how good these kids are either from film or from his scouts, and I don’t think you get the same feel from film as he would if he could interact with them personally. So I think he’s lost that edge there. The Raiders have bounced back a little bit. We’re a little bit better than in the past. Still not where the Raiders want to be, but hopefully we’re taking steps in the right direction.

CS: Do you or other retired players you know ever check out to stay up to date with league news and what not?

JP: You know I check a lot of different websites. I certainly read the paper. I’m an old fashioned guy. I love to read the paper and have my coffee in the morning. I go on the Internet. I go to I see some of the blogs. I’m more interested in what the Raiders are doing, but I try to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the NFL.

CS: Do you think you belong in the NFL hall of fame?

JP: You know, that’s not for me to decide. I did what I could, I played as hard as I could and did the best job I possibly could. I started at New England when New England wasn’t the team they are today. So it was a struggle, my career didn’t go exactly as I had hoped – in a spiral upwards, it was more of an up and down. But you know, I finally got there thanks to the Raiders and Mr. Davis as a matter of fact and the players that he had on the football team. Fortunately for me I got the ring off the merry go round, not once but twice, and a lot of people never get there.

CS: How do you think your skill set would fit into the pass-heavy, spread offenses that you see in today’s NFL?

JP: Me personally, I would love it. The number of passes they throw, the quickness with which they release the ball, a lot of the bubble screens by the tight end and wide receivers, I just a love of the short passes. Probably my career would have maybe even lasted a little longer. I wouldn’t be as beat up as I am today. They get rid of the ball quicker, a lot of crossing routes. But I’ve always loved to throw the ball and this pass happy stuff – plus the rules have all been in favor of the offence – defense suffers a little bit. I would love to be playing today and I think I would fit in quite well.

CS: Who do you think is going to win the Heisman trophy this year?

JP: Well, you know Cam Newton is certainly the front runner at this point. And that the game he had against Alabama, especially the second half, didn’t hurt his chances one bit. There are still a lot of other performances out there that have been pretty good, and Andrew Luck is certainly one of those kids. Part of the thing is you know you vote for a person for different reasons. Number one, you look at the stats and see what kind of year he had, but how much did he help his team win the footballs games? Would they have won anyway without this guy’s performance? And that’s another thing I look at. He’s got a little cloud hanging over him right now – Cam Newton – and that’s another thing you have to take into consideration, but hopefully that will all clear up. We have to have our votes in by December 6th and we’ll see where everybody stands then.

CS: Do you think college football needs a playoff system? And if so how many teams should go to the postseason?

JP: You know what, I’m not a big believer in the playoff system for college football. They already play what, maybe 12 games in the regular season? Maybe 13 or 14 before it’s all said and done. Maybe even 15, I’m not even sure anymore. A mythical champion is okay with me. They’ve still got to go to school and get an education, because all of these guys aren’t going on to the NFL. So a mythical champion is okay with me. You win your conference, you go to a bowl game. Another thing I have – this is a little pet peeve of mine – too many Bowl games. If you win six games you’re eligible for a Bowl. It’s something that I think you have to earn. In six games, 50 percent winning doesn’t really cut it for me. But I’m not in a real big favor of a playoff system. There’s still going to be controversy in that as well.

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