The Players That Made Me: Jake Plummer shares his inspirations and personal stories from a life in football

The Snake’s got stories. Plenty of them.

How would you like to hear about the time he made a two-dollar bet in elementary school on the Raiders? Or how he used to climb up onto his roof to adjust his home’s television antenna for “Monday Night Football”? Or how he earned the respect of Deion Sanders?

Football may not be the most important part of Jake Plummer’s life, but it’s definitely been a central piece of it and shaped who he is.

So we asked him to tell us about the players he loved to watch at different stages of his life, to give us a deeper look at who he is and how he got to where he is today — including how he got his start at quarterback, how he evolved at the position and what kind of players and people he loves to watch on the football field. Read on for his answers.

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Elementary school: Steve Grogan

“I was the one that got up to make sure that the antenna was pointed in the right direction on the roof. And when the reception came in, they’d say, ‘That’s good!’ We’d be watching “Monday Night Football” or whatever game was on in our area in Boise, Idaho. Most of the time it was the Broncos. We caught a lot of Broncos and Seattle games just regionally. I was the third [child] with two older brothers. They were sports geeks and by way of just what they were watching, I was watching football with them. …

“The thing I think of is the “Monday Night” Dun dun dun dunnnn — dun dun! Tonight … and that was just like, everything stopped when that came on. And we were all glued to the screen. And when the commercial would come on, we’d run outside and throw the ball and run back in, watch, and keep that cycle going. … Then we’d go out and try to emulate what we saw in TV, recreate it and be whoever that player was that we were watching at the time and go be like them. …

“[Former Patriots quarterback] Steve Grogan was my very first player that I ever really, like, watched and thought I want to be like. I had a [No.] 14 red, white and blue Sears special football jersey. So I liked the Patriots in Boise, Idaho, but it was Steve Grogan. … Before Marcus and Walter, it was Steve. And he was a scrambling QB who wore a neck roll. Go back and look. He had a neck roll in a couple games. They don’t do that! …

“When I got into the second grade, I remember winning a two-dollar bet against a friend of mine. I took the Raiders, and I believe that was in [1983], when they won the Super Bowl. And if my memory serves me, [running back] Marcus Allen was on that team. When you watch him run and avoid contact and how smooth he was — man, Marcus Allen was where it was at. Him and then also Walter Payton. Just the fact that he was a smaller guy, I was smaller — I’m still small, I’ve been small my whole life — but a smaller undersized guy that really dominated to that level, that was amazing to watch. …

“And I loved how Walter Payton carried the ball in one hand. I used to do that when I was a youngster when I first started playing. Coach is screaming at me, but I’m like, But I’m Walter Payton! That’s who I thought I was.”

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Middle school: Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway

“I started playing [quarterback] a little ways into my first year at Pop Warner — actually they called it Optimist in Boise — when my best friend, who convinced me to play, kept overthrowing the ball. So I would get the overthrown ball and, on the run, just rip it 20 yards right back to the coach. And all of a sudden, they’re scratching their heads. They took me off to the side and I threw some routes and they came and made the announcement that we had a new quarterback. Needless to say, I wasn’t accepted very well, taking my buddy’s job and now everybody kind of hated me. But once we started doing better, they were all right with that. …

“To the middle school part, that’s after I started playing football in about fifth grade. So, yeah, football was just one sport I played. I played everything, but at that time, thinking about who was playing and dominating, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway. I started watching more quarterbacks, because I was one. …

“But yeah in junior high, that was Joe, Dan, and still, again, Marcus Allen, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Bo Jackson. … Bo Jackson, I mean, oh my God, right? Then you get into the finer levels … Marino’s receivers — Duper and Clayton and those guys — because my brother was a huge Miami fan, so if Miami was on, we were watching them. But then I started watching those guys — [wide receiver] Irving Fryar — and I started evolving into other positions and watching other players. Football was always something I loved to watch, and that was my dream, to somehow play in the Super Bowl when I got older.

“It still was a dream. I didn’t know I’d even [get this far] … I never thought for sure it would happen, but it was my dream. When I worked, it wasn’t to make it to the NFL; it was to be the best I could be. In high school, that’s the only way I figured I could advance: to kick ass in high school and see where it would take me.”

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High school: Randall Cunningham

Then into high school, there were still some of the same guys I talked about. I was just watching more. Then [quarterback] Randall Cunningham came onto the scene. A guy like him, you start watching him run around and with his athleticism, I was like, Oh my God. OK, this guy’s amazing.

“When I watching, it was more as a fan and just rooting for teams. I’d watch the quarterback, but I didn’t really know what he [was doing]. …

“In high school, I started getting a little more coaching in that regard, as far as how to take drops and read safeties, but not to the level that these kids are now. For me, I just loved watching the game and how it would go down, and I just loved playing it any time I could. … But in high school, yeah, it was fun to be playing and be more efficient and do more fun things. But to watch a game, I never really studied it like that. I watched more for enjoyment.”

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College: Deion Sanders

“That’s when I got coached. Bobby Petrino was my first quarterback coach [at Arizona State], so right off I was chewed to pieces on the whiteboard, because it looked sloppy and wasn’t professional. So I learned right away, OK, this is a craft. It’s time to master it. I learned as much as I could from him about defenses, how to beat defenses, what coverages there were and what their weaknesses were. That’s when it really started to happen.

“And then after that, I had another good coach, Dan Henson, but my junior year is when I had Hue Jackson, who went from, like, the mental side was already there and he kept building that, but then he had me work on my mechanics. I mean, tirelessly in the offseason to where I got my drop went from being kind of janky to a real smooth drop. …

“Troy Aikman was really who I learned a lot from, from watching. … Elway was still kicking ass then, too. And even Joe, I think, was still playing. …

“And then that’s when Deion came on the scene, too. Deion Sanders — I was just hoping that they’d stop the offense so that they would punt and see what the hell he’d do with that punt return. That guy was — and still to this day is — one of my favorite athletes of all time. …

“Shoot, I was watching him [later during my NFL career], going, This guy’s amazing. And now I’m in the league and I’m being coached to not throw at him? Whatever! I’m in the league for how long? I’m going to throw at the best in the world. So I went after him — not after him — but I would go to his side. If my guy was in the read, I’d go there. He picked me off a few times, yeah, but that’s OK. So did Champ, so did every good DB. But they respect me now more because I actually challenged them, where some guys don’t even challenge them. But, yeah, Deion was tops on my list there. …

“I [was] playing in this … Tazon Latino all-star game [in 2015]. And in walks Deion, and everyone in the room is like, ‘Deion!’ and talking in Spanish. And he’s loved by all of these people. Then he comes and sees me — my brothers and my best buddy are with me — and I’m like, ‘What’s up, Deion?’ and he’s like, ‘What’s up, Snake?’ … This was after retirement, but still, the feeling from that … man. To know that Deion, when he sees you, [he] knows you — and respects me, because I went after him in the league.”

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In the pros: Doug Flutie

“Obviously the Hail Mary at Boston College caught everybody’s attention, and then as a kid growing up, you obviously didn’t watch Canadian ball, but then when he was in the league, yeah, I was on it. … But Doug was a guy just being as small as he was and what he did, and then getting to play with him in the league? I remember games, watching him, when he’d back[pedal] out at quarterback and throw a ball, and you’re like, Where the hell is this ball going? and then a receiver would break, and there it was.

“His anticipatory skills and his skill set just as a quarterback — I think and I would argue and would pull film to prove it — I think he might have the most heightened skill set of any quarterback that’s ever played the game. Because when you’re that height, you’re looking at the back of guys’ midsections. Me, I looked at their shoulder pads; Peyton [Manning], he looked up over the top of them. So there’s a lot to vantage point. It’s huge for a quarterback, but what he did for so many years and at such a high level, I have to mention him as one of the guys I learned a lot from and also who I loved to watch. Little guy overcoming all the odds.

“There wasn’t a lot of short quarterbacks doing it, and he did. That’s where — Kyler Murray, go watch his film, you know? Baker Mayfield, pull up Doug Flutie film. Because that dude did it for years at a pro level for [21] years! Canadian, pros — he never really got the reins in the pros. Nowadays if he’d come out with that skill set, who knows where he’d get drafted, man. That guy, he was an awesome leader, a guy that players loved. So yeah, I liked him for sure. And then you’ve got to throw in Jim Kelly. Everyone loves Jim. …”

“Getting into the pros, it was like, All right. I’ve been watching these guys; now I’m with them. This is sweet. This is fun. Then I realized with the Cardinals, guys that I may not have seen, like Larry Centers and Aeneas Williams and Lomas Brown, [they’re] just some amazing people and athletes and great teammates.

“Dude, you’ve got to go against that dude [Williams] in practice? For four years? Man, every second. Just like with Champ here, even their 90 percent makes you get better. But Aeneas was 100 percent all the time. Unbelievable.”

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Retirement: Patrick Mahomes

“I want to see fun. Like, Cam Newton is fun to watch. Russell Wilson is amazing. Patrick Mahomes — he saved the NFL. He’s my favorite player now. I want to watch every single game he plays, because the way he plays is how I tried to play. A gunslinger. Not afraid to make any throw any time or anywhere. That was the way I played, and he had such an amazing season. I can’t wait to see what he does next. Will he slide? Will he be even greater? I don’t know. I’m excited to watch that happen.

“And now, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield — we’ve got some exciting quarterbacks coming in. Not that Peyton Manning wasn’t amazing to watch, but it almost got boring because he was so Goddamn good and so efficient. Same with Tom Brady. Oh, is this going to be a comeback win? Yup, probably. All right, yep, it was. OK. Well, Patrick Mahomes might get a chance to throw two picks and still come back and make throws you’ve never seen and scramble and do stuff you’ve never seen anybody ever do before. So that’s what I like now, is watching the young kids that fly around a little bit.”

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