Maroon and Gold Illustrated Feature: Jake Plummer Is Enjoying Life After The NFL

Feb. 8, 2008

By Mike Scandura, Maroon and Gold Illustrated

Without question, Jake Plummer (1994-97) is enjoying life after abruptly retiring from the NFL last March.

But while residing in Idaho, it's not like he's morphed into a 'couch potato.'

Among other things, Plummer is deeply involved in The Jake Plummer Foundation, has dived head first into handball, and plans to indulge in outdoor activities such as skiing, mountain climbing and back packing.Much of the above might not have been possible had he limped away from the NFL instead of exiting in one piece.

'At one point, about a year ago, I thought it would be a good time to be done after 10 years,' the 32-year-old Plummer said. 'To me, [pro football] wasn't my defining feature, even though it did a lot for me.

'It's a great game and it set my family and me up nicely for the rest of my life. But I wanted to get out because of my body. At one point, you start breaking down. I started from my rookie year and played a full nine seasons, and in four I played every single game.

'A lot of things I want to do require that my knees and back be healthy,' Plummer continued. 'I've never had to deal with a bad injury. But I wanted to be able to do things in October instead of waiting until February, while I can still run and be active.'

As much as anything, the toll exacted on veteran players influenced his decision.

'I've seen some of these older players and felt this is not the kind of life I want to live,' he said. 'You may be able to deal with it but to hobble around ... you should see the way John Elway hobbles.

'Having an orange flag on my golf cart isn't my idea of having fun.'Fun may not be the appropriate noun to describe what Plummer derives from his foundation. But it does give him a large measure of satisfaction.

'I've done work with troubled youth and abused kids,' Plummer said. 'The Family Tree in Denver deals with abused kids. But the real reason for getting it going was I had a grandfather who passed away from Alzheimer's disease during my rookie year with the Cardinals.

'The foundation is geared toward Alzheimer's research, care givers and kids.'

Interestingly, one type of fundraiser Plummer utilizes for the foundation is bowling -- as opposed to golf, which invariably is standard operating procedure when it comes to raising funds for various charitable organizations.

'Everybody was [golfing] in Arizona, so I got into running bowling tournaments because they're more intimate,' Plummer said. 'We've had players like Frank Sanders and Rob Moore show up. It's a lot more fun, plus you're not in the sun for six hours.'

When Plummer was playing for the Cardinals and Broncos, his foundation -- to use a current phrase -- came up big around Christmas.

'During the holidays, we always took kids -- maybe 40 or 50 -- shopping either through the Phoenix Children's Hospital or The Family Tree in Denver,' Plummer said. 'That was the most rewarding thing we did because you're dealing with kids first-hand.

'Guys on our team would come. Some of these kids were abused by their fathers, and to see a 6-5 lineman be gentle with kids is something that's hard to describe.'

What's easier to describe is a room at the Phoenix Children's Hospital that's dedicated to the foundation -- a room where kids can take breaks from treatment and play video games and board games.

'That's something which will never go away,' Plummer said. 'It's really cool.'

Plummer literally isn't cool when he's playing handball.Earlier this year, he entered the U.S. Open (the highest-profile event sponsored by the U.S. Handball Association) with older brother Eric. But even though they lost their first-round match, it's a sport that Jake has an affinity -- as well as a talent -- for, and for which he has a distinct purpose.

'There are a few guys who are trying to form something like the World of Professional Handball,' Plummer said. 'They see it as a way to entice kids into coming and playing in tournaments. What's keeping some kids from playing soccer and basketball is they can't earn a living. We're trying to build handball to a point where you can make money -- like if you win you get $20,000, if you finish second you get $15,000 and so on.

'But it's more than about making money. It's about the kids and the camaraderie. It's a lifelong sport like golf and tennis, which is one of our angles. Plus, it's a big inner-city game. A wall and a ball are all you need.'

In Plummer's opinion, handball won't be an alternative to mainstream sports like baseball, basketball and football. But it would be an alternative, a way to cross-train for these sports, plus a way to develop eye-hand coordination, footwork and body balance.

Plummer certainly displayed exceptional footwork during two memorable victories.

On Sept. 21, 1996, he quarterbacked Arizona State to a 19-0 win over Nebraska -- the first time the Cornhuskers had been blanked in 60-plus years. And, on Jan. 2, 1998, he led Arizona past Dallas for the Cardinals' first playoff victory in 52 years.

While Plummer has fond memories of those games, you can multiply that times 10 when discussing his relationship with the late Pat Tillman, with whom he played for three years at ASU and for three with the Cardinals.

'He was quite the competitor,' Plummer understated. 'But off the field was where I was more impressed with what he did than on the field. He tried to challenge himself mentally and physically.

'Our foundation has given money to The Pat Tillman Foundation because it comes down to knowing Pat and what he stands for -- and for supporting the soldiers. We're trying to continue his legend and build up his legacy but, really, you don't have to do much.'

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