"When the first pass was tipped and went for a touchdown," Jim Plunkett related, "I said to myslef, 'if that's the way things are going to go today -- fine. It's a nice way to get started.'"
Plunkett, considered washed up two years ago when he was cut by the San Franciso 49ers, was the object of such a crush today after he guided the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl date with the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles that he never could get dressed in his clubhouse stall and had to have his clothes brought to the team bus.
Adding the brightest chapter yet to one of pro football's most amazing comeback stories, the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner from Stanford threw touchdown passes of 65 yards to Raymond Chester and 21 yards to Kenny King and ran five yards for a third score, all in the first period, to key the 34-27 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC title game.
"I feel great; it's terrific," said Plunkett, who was 14 for 18 passing for 261 yards. "We went out there and played our best. We had a few problems recently but we put everything together today. I'm proud of these guys."
Oakland and San Diego, both from the AFC West, split their two regular-season games, with each team winning at home. Plunkett said the Raiders did not change their attack a great deal for the third game.
"We really didn't do anything different than the last few times," he explained. "We tried to go deep a couple of times. I don't think they expected that. We also took advantage of a few passes underneath. I thought we ran the ball well when we had to."
Plunkett sent Oakland ahead on the third play of the game when his throw to King was deflected to tight end Chester, who carried for a 65-yard score.
Plunkett, who now has won 12 of the 14 games he has started since taking over for injured Dan Pastorini in early season, said he was not trying to prove anything.
"I don't think I have to prove anything. I proved it to myself," he said.
"I had some doubts about being able to come back and I started out not playing. But I'm just happy to be able to perform."
Oakland Coach Tom Flores, going to the Jan. 25 Super Bowl in New Orleans in only his third season as a head coach, said he was proud of Plunkett and his performance.
"It's probably one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of football," Flores said. "He suffered through adversities and conflicts but never gave up. You talk about pressure; the pressure on him was tremendous. That's one of the big things about this team; they rally behind everybody. I'm really proud of them."