Super Bowl XV was the climax of Plunkett’s revival as an NFL starting quarterback….as the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner from Stanford University was drafted by the New England Patriots….and was later named the 1971 NFL Rookie of the Year….but Plunkett suffered through five losing seasons with the Patriots and two uneven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before being released as a free agent before the 1978 season….for that is when Plunkett was signed by Oakland to be their backup quarterback….resulting in him not seeing much playing time….after having thrown no passes in 1978 and just 15 passes in 1979. But after the Raiders started the 1980 season with a 2–3 record…..and starter Dan Pastorini broke his leg….and suddenly Plunkett was thrust into the starting role….as the 33-year-old Plunkett got off to a bad start by throwing 5 interceptions in a 31–17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs after relieving Pastorini….however, he recovered and led the Raiders to victory in 9 of their last 11 games in the season….thus qualifying for the playoffs as a wild card team. Plunkett made 165 out of 320 pass completions for 2,299 yards, 18 touchdown passes, and was intercepted 15 times….as he also contributed 141 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.
The Raiders’ main offensive deep threat was wide receiver Cliff Branch with 44 receptions, 858 yards, 7 touchdowns….while wide receiver Bob Chandler contributed 49 receptions for 786 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back Mark van Eeghen was the team’s top rusher with 838 yards and 5 touchdowns….while also catching 29 passes for 259 yards. Halfback Kenny King rushed for 761 yards and catching 22 passes for 145 yards. The Raiders also had an outstanding offensive line led by two future Hall of Famers….tackle Art Shell and guard Gene Upshaw…..who became the first player to play in three Super Bowls with the same team in three different decades….as Upshaw also played in Super Bowls II (1967) and XI (1976).
Oakland’s defense was anchored by defensive end John Matuszak and was punishing….as DB Lester Hayes led the league in interceptions (13) and interception return yards (273)….and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. The Raiders also had a trio of great linebackers in future Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks, Pro Bowler Rod Martin (3 Interceptions), and standout rookie Matt Millen. The Raiders were led by head coach Tom Flores….the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl.
Under head coach Dick Vermeil….the Philadelphia advanced to their first ever Super Bowl in team history….and had not played in a league championship game since their 1960 NFL championship. The Eagles were led by quarterback Ron Jaworski….who completed 257 out of 451 passes for 3,529 yards during the regular season…. which included 27 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Another key player on the Eagles offense was halfback Wilbert Montgomery….who was widely considered one of the top running backs in the NFL after having rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons. Injuries during the 1980 regular season had limited him to just 778 yards….but he proved he was fully recovered in the postseason by rushing for 194 yards in the NFC title game. Montgomery was also a superb receiver out of the backfield….who recorded 50 receptions for 407 yards. The other main deep threats on offense were wide receivers Harold Carmichael and Charlie Smith….along with tight end Keith Krepfle….as the three combined for 125 receptions, 2,090 yards, and 16 touchdowns.
The Eagles’ defense led the league in fewest points allowed during the regular season (222)….as nose tackle Charlie Johnson anchored the line….who even managed to record 3 interceptions. Defensive end Claude Humphrey led the team in sacks with 14.5….and linebackers Jerry Robinson and Bill Bergey excelled at both stopping the run and pass coverage. Just a point of interest here….Bill Bergey and Bone Daddy were in the same Company B at US Army Officers Basic Training Camp in 1964 at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Philadelphia also had a fine secondary which was led by veteran defensive backs Herman Edwards (3 interceptions) and Brenard Wilson (6 interceptions)….along with rookie Roynell Young (4 interceptions). The Eagles’ defense was a major factor in their hard fought 10–7 victory over the Raiders in the regular season….when they sacked Plunkett 8 times.
The Eagles advanced through the playoffs, defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 31–16, and the Dallas Cowboys, 20–7. Meanwhile, Plunkett and the Raiders defeated the Houston Oilers 27–7….the Cleveland Browns 14–12 on a play known as Red Right 88….and the San Diego Chargers 34–27. In doing so, Oakland became the third wild card team to advance to the Super Bowl….and the first wild card team to win three postseason rounds since the NFL expanded to a 10-team playoff format in 1978….as DB Lester Hayes had a spectacular performance in the playoffs by adding 5 more interceptions to give him a total of 18 picks in 19 games.