Jim Plunkett was honored at a charity golf tournament supporting Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Desert in Palm Desert last weekend, and the former Raiders quarterback reserved part of his keynote speech for an old friend standing close by.
While Plunkett didn’t plan on discussing former Raiders coach Tom Flores being a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he couldn’t help but make a case why the Iceman belongs in Canton, Ohio.
Flores was in the crowd, and Plunkett considered it too important a topic, one Plunkett’s passionate about to ignore.
“Being on stage, I had to,” Plunkett said Thursday in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “Here’s a guy who has been in involved in four Super Bowls, one as a player and three as a coach. He was an NFL quarterback for many years and a GM in Seattle. If he doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame, there’s something seriously wrong with the voting.”
Saturday will mark the first time Flores is discussed among Hall of Fame finalists. This marks the first year Flores advanced beyond the initial wave of nominees, advancing to the semifinals and now to the final round of voting.
His candidacy will be discussed Saturday during a marathon meeting of Hall of Fame selectors in Atlanta. A group of 18 finalists will whittle down by more than half to form the 2019 HOF class.
Plunkett won’t be in the room then. Only the 48 selectors are allowed in, to discuss and vote on the merits of each finalist.
Plunkett and Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes campaigned for Flores to be in that honored group this week, echoing sentiments of so many who played for the legendary Raider who won two Super Bowls as a head coach and another as an offensive coordinator under John Madden.
“Tom is a great person first and foremost, but was an excellent head coach, assistant coach and player,” Plunkett said. “He has accomplished a tremendous amount in his career and certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
"To be overlooked time and again, I would be hard pressed to find someone with his credentials and achievements in the NFL. There’s no doubt in my mind that he belongs in Canton.”
He had an 83-53 regular-season over nine years as Raiders head coach, with an extraordinary .727 winning percentage in the postseason. He also had an indelible impact on the NFL, as the first Latino quarterback in pro football, and the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl. He was also the first minority general manager during his time running the Seattle Seahawks.
He doesn’t get the credit others do for a true Raiders golden era, because he was rarely the loudest personality in the room. Late owner Al Davis was always that man. So was Madden, a legend Flores succeeded as head coach.
“Tom had to follow that in his own quiet way,” Plunkett said. “That was one thing, but the shadow of Al Davis was hanging over Tom the whole time. He was under a lot of pressure to follow John and work under Al Davis. It’s not easy. Al was bigger than life in the Raiders organization and pro football in general.
"Tom took all that in stride. He knew what was expected and got the job done. He got his team ready to play well each and every Sunday.”
While Al Davis had a huge impact on years of Raiders success, Flores' contributions can’t be ignored.
[RELATED: Raiders legend Tom Flores anxious for answer]
Haynes says Flores had a unique way of getting his guys to peak on Sundays, and play their best in the biggest games. The Raiders were expertly prepared under Flores, with a level of confidence and cool that stemmed from the head coach.
That’s what he was able to do on a micro level, but Haynes believes we should also step back and look at his large contributions to professional football.
“His impact on the sport must be considered,” Haynes said. “Not too many had great careers as a player and then as a coach. Not only did he win one Super Bowl, he won two. I’m hopeful that he’ll get in this year. He deserves to get in there’s no question about it.”