11 years after benching, Jake Plummer finally finds closure with Mike Shanahan - The Buffalo News

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11 years after benching, Jake Plummer finally finds closure with Mike Shanahan

Jake Plummer is one of the tiniest few quarterbacks in modern NFL history who can relate to what Tyrod Taylor is experiencing.

The Buffalo Bills took away Taylor's job even though he's healthy and they have a winning record. They gave the gig to rookie Nathan Peterman.

Such moves are rare, which gives Plummer distinctive credibility. He would advise Taylor not to let any grudge against Bills coach Sean McDermott or the organization fester.

Plummer only recently put to rest his loathing over what happened to him.

In 2006, Plummer quarterbacked the Denver Broncos to a 7-4 record and got demoted for rookie Jay Cutler.

For the 11 years since, Plummer's ire for Mike Shanahan smoldered.

They finally met for lunch a few weeks ago in Denver to clear the air.

"It's been since '06, a good amount of years to carry that around," Plummer told me Thursday night as he drove from downtown Denver to his home in Boulder, Colo.

"I've tried a couple times at games, when I knew he was there, but it didn't work out. I talked to him on the phone, but I needed to see him in person. To do that was really good. Grudges only cause you stress and take years off your life.

"It was therapeutic, for sure. I hope it helped him, too."

For a feature story in Sunday's edition of The Buffalo News, I also interviewed Kurt Warner about the New York Giants replacing him with rookie Eli Manning in 2004. Warner was healthy. The Giants were 5-4.

Over the years, Plummer tried to be diplomatic while speaking publicly about Shanahan. But embers went airborne on occasion.

When the Broncos fired Shanahan in 2009, Plummer declared the coach's dismissal "was past due" and lamented Shanahan's aggressive approach was "a weird style [that] really took it out of you as a player."

As Shanahan sputtered with Washington in 2011, Plummer said, "I think we're seeing he isn't the special coach he thought he was."

Washington fired Shanahan after the 2013 season. He hasn't coached since.

"I said some things about him as a coach that I wish I hadn't," Plummer said, "and I wanted to make sure to tell him how much I appreciated the way he coached me.

"I gave him a hug and told him how much I love him and appreciate what he did for my career.

"I meet fans all the time who are still mad about that decision. I get on them and say, 'If I've gotten over it, then you have a problem to still be stuck on it.' Grudges aren't worth holding."

The Broncos opened their 2006 season 7-2, including road wins over the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Their problem was the San Diego Chargers, who were two games ahead in the Week 13 standings after the Broncos lost back-to-back games to the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs to slip to 7-4.

The defeats occurred within five days because the Chiefs game was on Thanksgiving. In those games, Plummer averaged 56.7 percent completions and 199.5 yards. He threw one touchdown and two interceptions.

As a starter that season, he threw 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

"I played into giving him a reason to bench me," Plummer said. "I wasn't this shining, golden boy in this situation who took a big lump. I wasn't doing the things I probably should've been doing as a 10-year vet."

The Broncos went 2-3 the rest of the way and failed to reach the playoffs. The Chiefs, also 9-7, made the tournament on a tiebreaker.

"Not that Jay Cutler hasn't done some pretty amazing stuff, but that team was mine," Plummer said, "and it's too bad I didn't get the chance to finish it off."

Denver went 39-15 with Plummer as its starter, 17-20 with Cutler.

After Shanahan benched him, Plummer never started again and didn't play another down after that season.

The Broncos traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and despite Jon Gruden's courtship, Plummer was worn out by the NFL and retired.

Plummer expressed regret over the murder of teammate Darrent Williams, killed in a drive-by shooting in the early morning hours after their season-ending overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Plummer wondered if the butterfly effect of making the postseason would've kept Williams and other Broncos — Plummer wasn't among them — out of the club that night and prevented the sequence of heated events that transpired.

Plummer moved back to the Denver area from his native Idaho. He and other retired Broncos founded the not-for-profit Athletes for Care to help players transition to life after sports. He has been an advocate for marijuana usage to treat sports injuries.

He attended his first Broncos game in September 2012, Peyton Manning's debut with them.

Yet there wasn't closure for Plummer until he could sit down with Shanahan and look him in the eye.

"Everything's full-circle," Plummer said. "I love going to the games. I'm proud of what I've accomplished."

I asked Plummer how he would advise Taylor to handle this situation. This was his answer:

"You've got a right to be as pissed off as anybody else in the history of this game. Yeah, if you weren't playing well and were just awful and couldn't complete a ball and just disgustingly horrible, then you know you deserve to get benched.

"But if you're playing good enough ball, and they're putting in someone you know won't bring what you bring to the field, be pissed off. There's no reason not to be a little upset. Your teammates will question you if you aren't.

"But remember you're still a leader on the team, and you were just the leader. Now you're not, but you still need to be. That's hard to do, but the guys need you to be there. Hey, man, we all win the Super Bowl if we go, right?

"Fifteen years from now, kid, when you're done playing, you're going to get mad respect for handling situations like this the right way. What's being done right now is being watched by a lot of eyeballs.

"Get back on it. But go ahead and be pissed off the whole time."

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