On This Date in Sports January 25, 1981: Wild Card Raiders

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia

The Oakland Raiders become the first Wild Card team to win a Lombardi Trophy shocking the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV at the Louisiana Superdome. Jim Plunkett, who was written off as a Heisman bust, wins the Super Bowl MVP with three touchdown passes. On defense Rod Martin has a big game, picking off Ron Jaworski three times. The trophy presentation was somewhat awkward as Al Davis was suing commissioner Pete Rozelle and the NFL for the right to move to Los Angeles. 

As the 1980s began, the Oakland Raiders were in a state of turmoil. Al Davis had wanted to move the team to Los Angeles after the Rams moved from the Coliseum to Anaheim. The league was blocking the Raiders from the move. Rozelle, a former Rams executive, was viewed by Davis as favoring the Rams. The two had been long rivals as Al Davis had served as the commissioner of the AFL in the years before the merger. Davis had been the lone holdout in the AFL, wanting more power as Pete Rozelle and the NFL absorbed the rival league. 

The Oakland Raiders were also in transition on the field. Tom Flores, the first Hispanic coach, was in his second season as the Raiders hoped to rebound from a pair of disappointing 9-7 seasons. The Raiders traded longtime quarterback Ken Stabler to the Houston Oilers for Dan Pastorini. Pastorini struggled as the Raiders started 2-3. When Pastorini suffered an injury, the Raiders were forced to turn to Jim Plunkett. A decade earlier, Plunkett won a Heisman at Stanford but was viewed as an NFL washout. Drafted first overall by the New England Patriots, Plunkett had five disappointing seasons in Foxboro before moving on to the San Francisco 49ers. After two more poor seasons, Jim Plunkett was on the verge of quitting football as he sat out the 1978 season after being released. Jim Plunket signed with the Raiders in 1979 but rarely saw the field before taking over for the injured Dan Pastorini. With Plunket, the Raiders turned their season around in 1980, finishing 11-5. One of the Raiders' two losses with Plunkett came in Week 13 in a 10-7 to the Eagles at Veterans Stadium. 

In the playoffs, the Raiders defeated their old quarterback Ken Stabler and the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card round 27-7. A week later, the Raiders braved bitterly cold weather to upset the Cleveland Browns 14-12 in the Divisional Playoffs as Mike Davis picked off Brian Sipe in the end zone to save the game in the final seconds. In the AFC Championship, the Raiders defeated their division rival San Diego Chargers 34-27. 

It was a dream season for the Philadelphia Eagles as they posted a 12-4 record for coach Dick Vermeil. The Eagles won their first division title in 20 years and reached the NFC Championship with a 31-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings. In the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles enjoyed a gratifying 20-7 win over the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time. 

There was a patriotic fever for the Super Bowl in New Orleans as the hostages from Iran were finally home after more than a year in captivity. The Eagles entered the game as a three-point favorite, as the Raiders came in as the hot team. On the first series of the game, Rod Martin picked off Ron Jaworski, giving Oakland the ball at the Eagles' 30-yard line. The interception came moments after a touchdown to Rodney Parker was nullified by a penalty. The Raiders cashed in as Cliff Branch caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Jim Plunket to open the scoring in Super Bowl XV. Late in the first quarter, the Raiders made it 14-0 as Kenny King had an 80-yard catch and run, establishing a record for the longest play in Super Bowl history. 

The Eagles finally got on the board in the second quarter, settling for a 30-yard field goal from Tony Franklin after Ron Jaworski failed to get the ball to Wilbert Montgomery in the end zone. Each team would miss a field goal in the latter stages of the second quarter as Oakland went into the half with a 14-3 lead. 

The Raiders took the first possession of the second half 76 yards in six plays as Cliff Branch caught a 29-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-3. On the Eagles' first possession of the third quarter, Ron Jaworski was picked off again by Rod Martin. The Raiders would make Philadelphia pay again as Chris Bahr hit a 46-yard field goal. The Eagles answered with a long drive that stretched into the fourth quarter, with  Keith Krepfle catching an eight-yard touchdown pass from Jaworski. The Raiders responded with a 35-yard field goal from Bahrto make it 27-10. The Eagles, now facing desperation, turned the ball over again, with Jaworski fumbling at the Oakland 42. After a three and out, Rod Martin set a Super Bowl record with his third interception to seal the Raiders' victory. 

Jim Plunket would be named Super Bowl MVP, passing for 261 yards with three touchdowns. Pete Rozelle had to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Al Davis, his big adversary. Davis would win his lawsuit, and the Raiders would move to Los Angeles in 1982.