NEW ORLEANS — Tony Dorsett can stroll the narrow streets of the French Quarter today with little fanfare. Jim Plunkett can enjoy dinner with family and friends downtown and not hear camera shutters clicking.
Only now, years after earning their greatest professional achievements at one of nine Super Bowls played in New Orleans, can they enjoy a trip here. Before, it was all about business.
When it was their time to play in the Super Bowl, these athletic and affable stars transformed into nomads. They retreated to their hotel rooms to prepare for their opponents. Just as important, they escaped the many trappings of this sporting event, held in a city full of sinful escapes from reality.
“It’s the world’s biggest extravaganza, and you got a lot of people in town,” said Dorsett, who starred in two Super Bowls, including the 1978 edition in New Orleans.
“You can get pulled and pushed in all different directions. You’ve got to stay focused. Stay true to what you’re here for, and that’s to win the big game.”
Plunkett is a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. He earned Most Valuable Player honors in Super Bowl XV, the culmination of a trying week in New Orleans.
“I got there Monday. By Thursday, I was ready to go play the game,” Plunkett said. “You’re harassed to death.”
One year before Dorsett’s Super Bowl appearance, he led the University of Pittsburgh to a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, sealing a national championship.
The following year, Dorsett was back at the Superdome for an even bigger game. Still, it was business. The game, although the same, had a different feel. Jobs — make that careers — were on the line, including future contracts. Endorsement deals.
Dorsett helped the Dallas Cowboys beat Denver 27-10 in Super Bowl XII. He rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown.
“The more you can get yourself away from that — the atmosphere of people having a whole lot of fun — the better off you can be,” said Dorsett, who was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 1994.
Eight weeks before Super Bowl XV, Plunkett was sacked eight times by the Philadelphia Eagles defense. The Eagles won that game, 10-7.
Plunkett, who endured 10 seasons of non-playoff football before joining the Raiders, did not want to be the reason the Raiders lost again to the Eagles, the reason why his late career opportunity fell short.
So when he checked into his hotel, he taped a sheet to the wall and started watching hours of film projection.
“I was going to know what to do in every situation, every time they lined up in whatever defense,” he said. “I was going to know what to call, when to call it, who to go to. I was going to be totally prepared, and I was.”
Plunkett threw for 261 yards and three TDs. The Raiders won, 27-10, becoming the first wild-card team to win the sport’s biggest game.