Who was the first Latino player drafted No.1 in the NFL draft?
As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month until October 15th, we look back at a legendary Latino of the NFL, two time Super Bowl champ Jim Plunkett.
National Hispanic Heritage Month just so happens to fall right in the middle of the first month of the NFL’s regular season and to celebrate, we go back and look at one of the most iconic Latino players to every play in the National Football League.
Patriots take Plunkett No. 1 overall in 1971
In 1971, the Jim Plunkett made history by becoming the first Latino player selected. with the first pick of the NFL draft. The New England Patriots broke down barriers in the league as they took the then 23 year-old San Jose, California native.
The Pats were coming off of a 2-12 season and they took the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner with the opening pick of the draft. His impact in New England was felt immediately as he led his to a Week 1 victory over an Oakland Raiders team that had just come off a trip to the AFC Championship the season before.
The son two Mexican American parents, Plunkett had won essentially every award a quarterback could win in college. In 1970 he not only won the Heisman Trophy, but the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award and the Sporting New Player of the year before entering the NFL draft.
Plunkett starts with a bang
After the win against the Raiders, Plunkett told reporters, “It was my biggest thrill. The Rose Bowl was a big thrill, too. But that was in the past. This is now.”
Plunkett went on to win the AFC Rookie of the Year that season after leading the Pats to a 6-8 record, but the Latino quarterback showed plenty of promise for the years to come. In the next two seasons Plunkett would finish second in passing yards, but the Pats failed to finish any of those seasons with a winning record.
In 1975 Plunkett injured his shoulder which created a new era in New England. Steve Gorgan took over at quarterback in his absence, and would not let go of his QB1 role for the next 16 years. Plunkett was traded away the following offseason when a deal was struck with the San Francisco.
Two Super Bowls with Raiders
Plunkett last two years in the Bay before being released. The Oakland Raiders scooped him up, but he wouldn’t throw a pass in his first season in black and silver, and threw just 15 passes the next season.
In 1980 Plunkett got his shot at a starting gig in the NFL when Raiders starting quarterback Dan Pastorini broke his leg, but it was a bumpy ride to his return under center. He threw five interceptions off the bench in the 31-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The former Hesiman winner would bounce back during the remainder of the season and win nine of eleven games as a starter earning the Raiders a wild card spot in the playoffs.
Plunkett led Oakland to the Super Bowl where they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 and Plunkett was named MVP of the game becoming the first Latino to win the award, and was the first minority quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
Hall of Fame in future?
Plunkett got one more Super Bowl in a similar situation three years later. The Raiders had moved to Los Angeles and he was again designated the back up role behind Marc Wilson. He took over starting duties halfway through the season and led the Raiders to a second Super Bowl in 1983.
After 16 years in the league, Plunkett retired with two Super Bowl titles, a Super Bowl MVP and the 1980 NFL Comeback Player Award tied to his name. Many belive his career is worthy of a spot in Canton at the NFL Hall of Fame, but Plunkett had yet to be honored with the distinction.
This season there are only a few players with Latino Heritage. Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, Miami Dolphins’ line backer Kiko Alonso and rookie receiver Chris Olave make up the very small population of Hispanic players in the league. Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera is the only head coach with Latino roots.