Jim Plunkett was ready to quit. He had been released by the San Francisco 49ers in 1976 and although the Oakland Raiders picked him up, he didn't play a down for them in 1978. In 1979, he had thrown 15 passes.
But something kept him going, and he kept the Raiders going after Dan Pastorini suffered a broken leg in the fifth game of the 1980 season. And in an improbable finale, Plunkett led the wild-card Raiders to a 27-10 upset of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV at the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 25, 1981. Plunkett was voted the most valuable player after passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
Raider players reportedly spent a lot of time in the French Quarter before the game and paid fines of $15,000 after breaking curfew more than once. It was tough to say if they were taking after renegade owner Al Davis, who had taken the NFL to court in his effort to win the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles, or if Davis took after them.
The Raiders had swagger on the field too. On the third play from scrimmage, linebacker Rod Martin intercepted a pass Ron Jaworski had intended for John Spagnola and returned it 17 yards. Jaworski had three passes intercepted in the game.
Aided by an offside penalty, the Raiders marched downfield, scoring on a two-yard pass from Plunkett to Cliff Branch. Before the quarter was over, running back Kenny King completed an 80-yard scoring pass play that was the longest in Super Bowl history.
"Plunkett is the most efficient quarterback I've ever played with," Branch told reporters afterward. "Plunkett is the leader we didn't have when Pastorini wasn't in there.... They said Jim didn't have it anymore, but all he needed was good people around him."
The Eagles came back on a 30-yard field goal by Tony Franklin in the second quarter.
Branch outmaneuvered cornerback Roynell Young to complete a 29-yard pass play that gave the Raiders a 21-3 lead in the third quarter, and Chris Bahr padded that with a 46-yard field goal later in the quarter.
The postgame presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy was almost as big a show as the game. There was speculation that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle might not hand the prize to Davis, his archenemy, but Rozelle graciously congratulated the Raiders.