Brothers Where it Mattered Most

February 28, 2019

Jim Plunkett (Stanford University, 1970) was the runaway winner of the 1970 Heisman trophy as the nation’s top college football player. Born to blind parents, he worked several part-time jobs in high school to help support the family. Plunkett capped a storybook college career by leading Stanford to a 1971 Rose Bowl upset of previously undefeated Ohio State. He played in the NFL for 16 seasons, achieving his greatest success during his nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders, whom he helped lead to two Super Bowl victories. Jim Plunkett’s tells his personal story including his Fraternity experience in this video. 

The Super Bowl MVP recalls joining Delta Tau Delta as a critical moment in his life that helped him prepare them for the NFL's biggest stage.

“The defining moment of my career wasn't something that happened on a football field. It was the day I walked into the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house during my sophomore year at Stanford. Before that point, I was a poor, introverted kid who had started to feel like I didn't belong at that school. After it, I had such a strong support group that I can honestly say the guys in that house helped save my life.

What many people don't realize about Stanford is that it didn't always offer full athletic scholarships. When I was in school in the early 1970s, there were plenty of players who had to help pay for their education by working part-time jobs. Some kids worked in the athletic department while others cleaned up tables in local restaurants. In fact, I was so broke that I had to take out student loans during my final two years of school and I also spent one semester living with my parents in San Jose.

But money was just one of the main reasons I felt out of place at Stanford. I honestly think I came to that university with a lot of pressure on my shoulders. It's no secret that both my parents were blind when I grew up and I always believed I had to resolve a lot of problems by myself. It's not that I didn't feel loved by them. It's just that they could do only so much to help.

So as things got harder for me at Stanford, I started to feel like my dreams were dying. I had a tumor removed during an operation in my first year on campus. I also was a fourth-string quarterback as a freshman and the offense was more suited for mobile players who could roll out instead of traditional drop-back passers like myself. And when you factored in all the other issues that I was dealing with off the field, I honestly can say the frustration was mounting quickly.

So when I joined Delta Tau Delta, I didn't have any idea what the house could do for me. I was simply looking for a place to belong and I wound up finding all these friends, many of whom were athletes like myself. They helped keep my confidence up and they made me realize that I could succeed at Stanford. When I think back to how much they did for me -- even if it was something as small as letting me borrow a car -- I often wonder what would've happened if I'd signed on with a different fraternity.

See, I don't think it's a coincidence that my playing career took off in the years after I became a Delta Tau Delta member. I just felt better about myself and the opportunities on the field started to come more easily. In fact, I became even more comfortable on the field, as the coaches changed the offense prior to my junior year to accentuate my strengths. Suddenly, the shy kid with few friends was the leader of the team.

But even now, I give a lot of credit to the guys in that house. They kept my spirits up and they didn't let me get so low that transferring or quitting became a viable solution to my problems. So when I think about all the things that happened to me on the professional level -- from being the top pick in the 1971 draft to resurrecting my career in Oakland -- I always look back to those times with fond memories. Aside from my real family, the young men in that house were some of the most important people ever to enter my life.”

As told to ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha