Fifteen seasons later, Jim Plunkett still is standing in the pocket with criticism rushing him relentessly from all sides.

He moves as if his cleats were made of cement. He throws the football the way Al Oerter throws the shot put -- up to the wind and down with a clunk. Is he stiiiil the Raiders' starting quarterback?

Now, with the southern California sunshine highlighting the gray flecks in his sideburns, James William Plunkett Jr., age 37, says the criticism is as inevitable as the waves pounding the shore.

But he also admits, ''I'm not impervious to the things written or said about me. It is hard to live with sometimes. I keep hearing it.''

Plunkett has endured just about everything good and bad that football can offer. He's had so many highs and lows, he says, that he can't go anywhere without being recognized.

''With this ugly mug,'' he reasons, ''I guess I'm hard to miss.''

The Raiders' coach, Tom Flores, remembers how Plunkett asked to be traded in 1980, after the Raiders had acquired veteran quarterback Dan Pastorini. Flores refused, figuring, ''I knew it wouldn't be in the best interest of the team.''

Pastorini got hurt and Plunkett merely was named the most valuable player of the Super Bowl that season, a 27-10 victory over Philadelphia. Three years later, Plunkett beat the Redskins, 38-9, in another Super Bowl.

He wasn't spectacular in that victory over the Redskins, but then Jim Plunkett rarely seems spectacular in any game. Just 16 of 25 for 172 yards, including a scoring pass to Cliff Branch. Tra-la-la-la-la. Next.

So now this guy who is known for doing nothing pretty, except winning, has rolled up the most crucial honors of all.

He has won two Super Bowls and the only other quarterbacks who can make such a claim are named Terry Bradshaw (four), Bart Starr (two), Bob Griese (two), Roger Staubach (two) and Joe Montana (two), players who, unlike Plunkett, have never found themselves on the league waiver wire.

You should hear his teammates talk about Plunkett. Says cornerback Lester (The Judge) Hayes, ''It's become a silver-and-blackism that Jim Plunkett will bring us back. The most important thing Jim Plunkett does in the fourth quarter is win. He's like Ken Stabler used to be here. No matter what the score is, we think there is a feasible form or fashion that Jim will score us points. His confidence spills over to everyone.''

And tight end Todd Christensen, the two-time all pro, says as only he can say, ''Jim's not esthetically beautiful. He's not 6-4, blond, with a gun of an arm and he's not from BYU.''

So what gives, then, T.C.? ''Jim has what I call 'rites of passage.' He's gone suffering from a thumb injury, was benched n favor of Wilso. He throws an interception, he runs off the field. There is no perceptible show of emotion either way. He's seen it all,'' Christensen says.

''People always ask, 'How are you going to be looked at historically ?' The fact of the matter is, who is still left from Jim's generation? That has to be one of the great yardsticks -- longevity.

''I mean, this guy went through 66 sacks with New England in one 14-game season. The guy gets a pin in his shoulder when he's running an option. An option? My God, can you believe that? An option? Then he goes through the ignominy of getting cut by the San Francisco 49ers (in 1978) when they were the worst team in the NFL.''

Christensen pauses, as if to reload, and admits, ''Listen, you're talking to someone who is extremely grateful for Jim Plunkett if for no other reason than he's brought me from anonymity.''

The football world wonders why Heisman Trophy winners never seem to perform well in the NFL, which can be taken as another skin bracer slap at Plunkett (Heisman winner, Stanford, 1970).

Because Plunkett's history is 'umble as Uriah Heep, he fits splendidly with these ribald Raiders. ''We don't look for a General Patton or some field general,'' Christensen says. ''There's no illusions on this team of someone rising up to be the standard-bearer. We have a lot of self-motivated players.

''I don't think Jim or Marc (Wilson, reserve quarterback) has any illusions about themselves being a modern-day MacArthur. All we want is someone to play the position well.''

Plunkett's story has been told nearly a million times, but that makes it none the less inspiring. He was the first player selected in the 1971 draft, taken by New England. He threw for 19 touchdowns (with 16 intercaptions) and was named rookie of the year.

Then in 1976, Plunkett was traded to the 49ers for four top-of-the-line draft picks (two first-round selections in 1976 and a first- and a second-round pick in 1977) and quarterback Tom Owen. Is there anybody in the NFL who hasn't been traded for Tom Owen?

Well, anyway, Plunkett played two seasons with the 49ewrs, then was cut in 1978. The Raiders claimed him for the $100 waiver fee -- about the price of two helmets -- a little more than two weeks later. Talk about bargain shopping!

Dare we say that nothing has come easy for Plunkett? He has been in a quarterbacking do-si-do with Wilson for the last four seasons.

Flores, who has named Plunkett as his opening-day starter this season, recalls that even after the Raiders beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl in January 1984, a reporter asked him in the postgame locker room interview which guy would be the opening-day starter the following season -- Plunkett or Wilson?

''I couldn't believe that,'' Flores says. ''I just looked at the guy kind of funny.''

Let's backtrack a bit further. After he won the Super Bowl over the Eagles after the 1980 season, Plunkett had troubles in the 1981 season. The Raiders were shut out in a club-record three straight games and Plunkett, quietly suffering from a thumb injury, was benched in favor of Wilson. The Raiders finished a nonplayoff 7-9.

The next season, though, Plunkett was the starter and led the Raiders to an 8-1 record during the strike-shortened season. However, he was criticized (naturally) after the was intercepted twice in the closing moments by New York Jets linebacker Lance Mehl in a 17-14 second-round loss in the playoffs.

In 1983, Wilson appeared headed to the U.S. Football League until the Raiders rewarded him with a reported $800,000-a-year contract. So, in midseason, Wilson replaced the ineffective Plunkett. Then a shoulder injury sidelined Wilson for the year.

Reenter Plunkett. The Raiders reportredly renegotiated Plunkett's contract to near-parity with Wilson's. It was only fair since Plunkett won nine of the final 10 games that season, including the Super Bowl win over the Redskins.

Then in 1984, Plunkett suffered a torn abdominal muscle and missed nine games in mid-season. When Plunkett did play, he wasn't very effective. He threw six scoring passes and 10 interceptions. Wilson wasn't effective either, though. He threw 15 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.

When Seattle beat the Raiders, 13-7, in a playoff game last season, fingers were pointed at the offense. And at Plunkett, who was alone again, naturally.

Which brings us to now, year 15 for Plunkett's ride. It's the final year of his two-year contract and quite possibly, Plunkett says, the final year of a remarkable career.

''I've seen a lot of ups and downs. I wish it had all gone one way,'' Plunkett says, ''but it hasn't. But almost any quarterback who's played for any length of time has had ups and downs. Fans got on Roger Staubach at one time and wanted him out. It happened to Joe Namath in the end in Los Angeles. And that's the way it is.

''I have had some awful games. Everyone has. But as you get older, the coaches seem to look only at the bad things . . . I'm kind of a high-risk type of guy. I probably go for the big play more than I should. But I'd rather live that way than not.

''Whether I have to scramble or run for the first down,'' says Plunkett, finding something more important than the fact he's thrown 147 touchdowns and 186 interceptions in his career,''I win. Most of the time I outscore the other team. Or, at least, I help outscore them.''

Can there be any other quarterback whose career has run the same drastic course as Plunkett's? Likely, no. Says Plunkett, ''Take Fran Tarkenton, maybe. He went to New York (from Minnesota) and never won. The Giants went back into the cellar several times.

''Or maybe Craig Morton is somewhat of an example. He is in Dallas, then New York and then winds up in Denver and goes to the Super Bowl. I guess that's similar to my career.''

But Morton's Broncos lost the Super Bowl, 27-10, to Dallas. ''Maybe,'' Plunkett admitted, ''it's not quite the same as my career.''

Now that Branch, 37, is injured and likely never to play again, the Raiders rave about rookie receiver Jessie Hester.

Sure enough, it's a new Raiders generation. For those of you keeping score, Jim Plunkett is still the starting quarterback.