This Day in College Football History – December 5th

Jim Plunkett (born December 5, 1947) is a former  quarterback who played college football for Stanford University, where he won the Heisman Trophy, and professionally for three National Football League teams: the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He led the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories (XV and XVIII). He is the only eligible quarterback to start (and win) two Super Bowls without being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Plunkett was born to Mexican American parents with an Irish-German great-grandfather on his paternal side. Plunkett’s father was a news vendor afflicted with progressive blindness, who had to support his blind wife along with their three children. Plunkett’s parents were both born in New Mexico; his mother, whose maiden name was Carmen Blea, was born in Santa Fe and his father, William Guitierrez Plunkett, in Albuquerque. Carmen is also part Native American. William died of a heart attack in 1969.

The family’s financial situation was a big problem for Jim as he was growing up. He didn’t like the area he lived in, often didn’t have money for dates, and avoided bringing friends to his house. He worked from an early age, cleaning up at a gas station while in elementary school, delivering newspapers, bagging groceries, and working in orchards. In his high school years, he worked in the summers, being too busy with sports during the school year.  Jim went to William C. Overfelt High School in the 9th and 10th grades and then transferred to and graduated from James Lick High School, both of which are located in east San Jose, California. Plunkett showed his talent for tossing the football by winning a throwing contest at the age of 14 with a heave of over 60 yards. Once he arrived at the school, he played quarterback and defensive end for the football team, with his athletic ability also helping him compete in basketball, baseball, track and wrestling. He is on the Hall of Fame wall in the James Lick gymnasium.

Upon entering Stanford University, Jim Plunkett endured a rough freshman campaign after being weakened by a thyroid operation. His performance originally caused head coach John Ralston to switch him to defensive end, but Plunkett was adamant in remaining at quarterback, throwing 500 to 1,000 passes every day to polish his arm. He earned the opportunity to start in 1968, and in his first game, completed ten of thirteen passes for 277 yards and four touchdowns, and never relinquished his hold on the starting spot. Plunkett’s arrival ushered in an era of wide-open passing, pro-style offenses in the Pac-8, a trend that has continued to the present. His successful junior campaign saw him set league records for touchdown passes (20), passing yards (2,673) and total offense (2,786). This display of offensive firepower led Washington State coach Jim Sweeney to call Plunkett “The best college football player I’ve ever seen.” After his junior year, Plunkett became eligible to enter the NFL draft, which would have given him a chance to earn a large roster bonus for himself and his mother. He passed up the chance at a paycheck, however, so that he could set a good example to the Chicano youth he had tutored. In his senior year, 1970, he led Stanford to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1952, a game that ended with a 27-17 Stanford victory over the heavily favored Ohio State Buckeyes.

With eighteen passing and three rushing touchdowns added to his 2,715 passing yards on the year (which broke his own conference record), Plunkett was awarded the 1970 Heisman Trophy, the award given annually to the top college football player in the country. Though he had set so many records on the season, 1970 had been the “Year of the Quarterback,” and Plunkett beat out Notre Dame’s Joe Theismann and Archie Manning of Ole Miss to win the award. He was the first Latino to win the Heisman Trophy. Aside from the Heisman, he captured the Maxwell Award for the nation’s best quarterback and was named player of the year by United Press International, The Sporting News, and SPORT magazine. In addition, the American College Football Coaches Association designated him as their Offensive Player of the Year. He became the second multiple recipient of the W.J. Voit Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the outstanding football player on the Pacific Coast. Plunkett received the Voit Trophy in both 1969 and 1970. While at Stanford he joined Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity.

UCLA coach Tommy Prothro had called Plunkett the “best pro quarterback prospect I’ve ever seen”, echoing Sweeney’s words from the year prior. His excellent arm strength and precision made him attractive to pro teams that relied much more heavily on the passing game than most college teams of the late 1960s. In 1971, he was drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL draft by the New England Patriots (the team was still known as the Boston Patriots at the time of the draft; the name change to New England did not become official until March 21 of that year). Plunkett owns the distinction of being the only player of Hispanic heritage to be drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. The Patriots finished the season at 6-8, fourth place in the AFC East. Plunkett’s first game was a 20-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots’ first regular-season contest at Schaefer Stadium. New England also influenced the AFC East championship race, as Plunkett’s 88-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to former Stanford teammate Randy Vataha on the final day of the season dropped the Baltimore Colts to a 10-4-0 record and into second place in the division behind the 10-3-1 Miami Dolphins. Two weeks before the Patriots defeated the Colts, Plunkett engineered a 34-13 victory over the Dolphins.

Plunkett’s touchdowns dropped and his interceptions rose in the following seasons, however, and he struggled with injuries and a shaky offensive line for the rest of his tenure in New England. By 1975, the Patriots drafted Steve Grogan, who would become a fixture with the club for 16 seasons, and under the leadership of coach Chuck Fairbanks, New England’s offense became more run-oriented, led by Sam Cunningham. Prior to the 1976 NFL Draft, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for QB Tom Owen, two first round picks in 1976, and a first and second round pick in 1977. He led the team to a 6-1 start before faltering to an 8-6 record. After a 5-9 season in 1977, the 49ers released him during the 1978 preseason. Plunkett then joined the Oakland Raiders in 1978, serving in a reserve capacity over the next two years, throwing no passes in 1978 and just 15 passes in 1979. However, five weeks into the 1980 NFL season, his career took a major turn when starting QB Dan Pastorini fractured his leg in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The 33-year-old Plunkett came off the bench to relieve Pastorini, throwing five interceptions in a 31-17 loss. The Raiders, however, believing that Marc Wilson did not have the experience they wanted, called on Plunkett to start for the remainder of the year. In his first game as a starter, he completed eleven of fourteen passes with a touchdown and no interceptions. Plunkett guided Oakland to nine victories in eleven games and a playoff berth as a wild card. Plunkett led the Raiders to four playoff victories, including the first-ever victory by a wild card team in the Super Bowl, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 27–10 in Super Bowl XV. Throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns, Plunkett was named the game’s MVP; subsequently, Plunkett has the distinction of being the first minority to quarterback a team to a Super Bowl victory and the only Latino to be named Super Bowl MVP. In addition to this, he became the second of four players to win the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP, Roger Staubach before him, and Marcus Allen and Desmond Howard after him.

After returning to the backup role in 1983, Plunkett again assumed starting duties, this time after an injury to Wilson. The Los Angeles Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XVIII, where they defeated the Washington Redskins, 38-9. Plunkett completed 16 of 25 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown in the game. Plunkett spent most of his last three seasons either injured or as a backup. He retired after the 1986 season, and is currently the fourth-leading passer in Raiders history. He currently holds the Oakland Raiders record, as well as tied for the league record, for the longest career pass. The 99-yard pass play occurred during an October 2, 1983 game against the Washington Redskins.  A curious quirk in Plunkett’s career is that he never once played against the New England Patriots, the team that drafted him; he was injured early in 1985 and did not play in the Raiders’ playoff run ending in a 27-20 Divisional Round loss to New England. Currently, Plunkett does a post-game radio show of Raiders games, and is a co-host of several Raiders TV shows.

Don “”Dandy Don”” Meredith (April 10, 1938 – December 5, 2010) was a quarterback, sports commentator and actor. He spent all nine seasons of his professional playing career (1960–1968) with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his last three years as a player. He subsequently became a color analyst for NFL telecasts from 1970–1984. As an original member of the Monday Night Football broadcast team on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), he famously played the role of Howard Cosell’s comic foil.  Meredith was born on April 10, 1938 in Mount Vernon, Texas, located approximately 100 miles east of Dallas. He attended Mount Vernon High School in his hometown, where he starred in football and basketball, performed in school plays and graduated second in his class.

Even though he was heavily recruited by then-Texas A&M head coach Bear Bryant, Meredith decided to play college football at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He led the Southwest Conference in passing completion percentage in each of his three years as the starting quarterback, and was an All-America selection in 1958 and 1959. His fellow students jokingly referred to the school as “Southern Meredith University” due to his popularity on campus. He completed 8 of 20 passes for 156 yards in the College All-Stars’ 32–7 loss to the Baltimore Colts in the Chicago College All-Star Game on August 12, 1960. He would be honored twice by SMU in later decades. He was the recipient of the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983. His jersey number 17 was retired during halftime ceremonies at the SMU-Houston football match on October 18, 2008. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

The Dallas Cowboys franchise was admitted to the league too late to participate in the 1960 NFL Draft, so on November 28, 1959, one month prior to the draft, Meredith signed a personal services contract with Tecon Corporation which, like the Cowboys, was owned by Clint Murchison. This contract meant he would play for the Cowboys if and when they received an NFL franchise. He was also selected by the Chicago Bears in the third round (32nd overall) of the 1960 NFL Draft, after Bears owner George Halas made the pick to help ensure that the expansion Cowboys got off to a solid start. The league honored the contract, but made the Cowboys compensate the Bears with a third-round pick in the 1962 NFL Draft. He is considered by some to be the original Dallas Cowboy because he had come to the team even before the franchise had adopted a nickname, hired a head coach or participated in either the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft or its first NFL Draft in 1961. Their crosstown rivals in the American Football League, the Texans, also chose him as a “territorial selection” in their 1960 draft, but were too late to sign him.

Meredith spent two years as a backup to Eddie LeBaron, eventually splitting time in 1962 before he was given the full-time starting job by head coach Tom Landry in 1963. In 1966, Meredith led the Cowboys to the NFL postseason, something he would continue to do until his unexpected retirement before the 1969 season. His two most heartbreaking defeats came in NFL Championship play against the Green Bay Packers, 34–27 in Dallas (1966), and the famous “Ice Bowl” game, 21–17 in Green Bay (1967). “Dandy Don,” while never leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, was always exceptionally popular with Cowboys fans who remember him for his grit and toughness, his outgoing nature, and his leadership during the first winning seasons for the Cowboys. Meredith, along with Harvey Martin, is among the few players to play his high school (Mount Vernon), college (SMU), and pro (Dallas Cowboys) career in and around the Dallas, Texas, area. During his career, he had a 50.7 percent completion rate, throwing for 17,199 yards and 135 touchdowns with a lifetime passer rating of 74.8. He was named the NFL Player of the Year in 1966 and was named to the Pro Bowl 3 times.

Following his football career, Meredith became a color commentator for ABC’s Monday Night Football beginning in 1970. He left for 3 seasons (1974–1976) to work with Curt Gowdy at NBC, then returned to MNF partners Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell. His approach to color commentary was light-hearted and folksy, in contrast to Cosell’s observations and Gifford’s play-by-play technique. He was known for singing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” (a line from a Willie Nelson song, “The Party’s Over”) at garbage time.  Meredith’s broadcasting career was also not without a few incidents of minor controversy; including referring to then-President Richard Nixon as “Tricky Dick”, announcing that he was “mile-high” before a game in Denver, and turning the name of Cleveland Browns receiver Fair Hooker into a double entendre. (saying ‘Fair Hooker…well, I haven’t met one yet!’) He retired from sportscasting after the 1984 season, a year after Cosell’s retirement. His final broadcast was Super Bowl XIX with Frank Gifford and Joe Theismann, which was ABC’s first Super Bowl.

Meredith also had an acting career, appearing in multiple movies and television shows, including a recurring starring role as Detective Bert Jameson on Police Story. One episode, “The Witness,” features a picture of Don in his Dallas uniform hanging on a wall in Delaney’s bar while Don interviews witnesses to a robbery below his picture. He was in a series of commercials in the 1980s as Lipton Tea Lover, Don Meredith, a.k.a. “Jeff and Hazel’s Baby Boy”. He was featured in an episode of King of the Hill, (“A Beer Can Named Desire”) in which he misses a throw that would have won the main character, Hank Hill, $100,000. In 1976, Meredith was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium along with former running back Don Perkins.Meredith was selected as the 2007 recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. He received the award at the Enshrinee’s Dinner on August 3, 2007.

Meredith was married three times: first wife, Lynne Shamburger, a former SMU cheerleader, which lasted from 1959–63, and had one daughter, Mary. From 1965–71, he was married to the former Cheryl King, though whom he had two more children, son Michael and daughter Heather. He met his third wife, the former Susan Lessons Dullea, ex-wife of actor Keir Dullea, as they both were walking down 3rd Avenue in New York City. They married in 1972. Meredith died on December 5, 2010, at the St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 72 years old.

 

Tom Brown (born December 5, 1936) is a former professional Canadian football player, and a former outstanding American college football player. He played collegiately at the University of Minnesota, and won the Outland Trophy in 1960 as the nation’s best lineman. He played professional football with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, and was made a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984. Brown was inducted into College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

 

Follow me!

Leave a Reply