In 1980, he was the Super Bowl's most valuable player, the NFL's comeback player of the year and, to some people, man of the year.
Ten months later, the glory Jim Plunkett helped bring to Oakland and himself seems lost in the morning fog rolling across San Francisco Bay.
Plunkett sat at the Raiders' training camp and sipped coffee as he leaned back in an office chair. Come Sunday, he would drink Gatorade and sit on the bench. In these drab days of his 11th NFL November, Sunday is Jim Plunkett's day of rest. Again.
"Maybe people think that I only had one good year and that that was a fluke. They figure that now I'm back to where I was during the rest of my career. I think that's a ridiculous statement," said Plunkett, the second-stringer, but not the second-guesser.
In 10 months, Plunkett's outlook has deteriorated from regal to remorseful. In 1980, he was the toast of this city, the sports story of the year. He replaced the injured Dan Pastorini in the fifth game that season and the Raiders won 13 of their final 15, including the Super Bowl.
But after six games this year, Oakland was 2-4. The Raiders had been shut out three games in a row. They were no longer defending their title; they were defending their pride and their poise, two of Al Davis' most treasured commodities.
Jim Plunkett was being blamed. He had thrown only four scoring passes and had eight interceptions. The Raiders were struggling to avoid sinking in the Bay and in the AFC West.
"I was pretty bad," said Plunkett.
So, in the seventh week, Oakland Coach Tom Flores replaced Plunkett with Marc Wilson, the second-year player with a five-pass pro career.
Since then, the Raiders are 3-2. They are 5-6 overall, but the playoffs still seem doubtful. Plunkett doesn't wear the Super Bowl ring these days. "It's too large," he says. Sales of "The Jim Plunkett Story," his memoirs of last season, are moving better than Plunkett's offense moved. "I've been told it's a best seller at three bookstores here," he says.
So Plunkett reflects on this sad season that may make him eligible to win next year's comeback player of the year award.
"I wasn't as effective as I could have been. I hurt my thumb in the first game when I got sacked and it was difficult to throw the ball. I wasn't making the big plays. I don't know if I'll get another opportunity. Who knows? I may never play again."
He is 34 years old, the same as Ken Stabler and junior only to quarterbacks Craig Morton (38) and Jim Hart (37), whose precise passing has sustained their careers. Plunkett has two years left on his Raider contract.
"This isn't as bad as when I was released by the 49ers in 1978. Then I questioned my abilities. I was depressed. For me, the way my career has gone, 34 is old. For (Bob) Griese and Stabler, 34 wasn't old. But my career hasn't been a steady climb. I wish it had been, but I can't change that now. I plan to be here those next two years, unless they have other plans."
Thus far, Wilson, 24, has been inconsistent, at times looking as though he were back in his glory days at Brigham Young and at other times looking just plain young. He has completed 94 of 208 passes for 1,156 yards. He has six touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He is improving, the coaches feel.
"I was happy about the opportunity to play," Wilson said, "but not about what happened to Jim. Plunky has handled it well, I think. We haven't said much about it to each other. I'm uncomfortable about it, and I'm sure he is, too. He is not the kind of person to mope around."
As Wilson was throwing three first-half touchdown passes in last Sunday's 33-17 win in Miami, Plunkett stood on the sideline next to tight end Raymond Chester, guard Gene Upshaw and center Dave Dalby, the veterans who have been replaced by young players this year. They stand silently.
Davis, the managing general partner who, most admit, generally coaches the team, too, said of Plunkett's replacement, "It was the right decision. It's never a difficult decision if it's the right decision.
"We had said that we would let our Super Bowl team play the first three games this year out of respect. We felt we owed it to them. Deep down, Tom (Flores) and I weren't so sure it would work out. When we made the changes, Tom was a little reluctant at first. Some people are reluctant to change."
Said Flores, "It was tough, but even Jim admitted he wasn't doing it. His timing was off, his passes were off. Consequently, I felt it would be good to sit him down. We haven't given up on him. How could we with all he has done for this team? His arm and his legs are still strong. His thumb is healing. It's possible he could start again."
Wide receiver Bob Chandler, who speaks his mind as precisely and coherently as he runs his routes, said, "It's probably tough for Jim, just like it's tough for Upshaw and the other guys. That Jim led us to the Super Bowl last year means nothing now. Don't get me wrong, we're all eternally grateful for what he did. But you must understand that last year isn't important now."
Plunkett knows this. "I enjoyed this past off season at first, with the speaking engagements and everything. But it got hectic after a while and I didn't have the time for it. It was like when I won the Heisman at Stanford (1970).
"But I don't want to look back to last year. It's a whole new situation now."