Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gotta hand it to Plummer

Gave up $$ to play game he loves

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After a 10-year career as a NFL quarterback where he earned millions, Jake Plummer believes handball pays more -- in terms of pure enjoyment.

Plummer retired from football in 2007 and returned to handball, the game that his father Steve taught him and his two older brothers.

Plummer, 34, is in Winnipeg this weekend competing in the 2009 Canadian 4-Wall Handball Championships at the University of Winnipeg. Sitting for a moment on the Duckworth Centre stairs before his warm-up wearing a ball cap and what looked like a playoff beard, Plummer blends in like just any other player and he likes it that way.

"I am happy playing handball, it's fun, it's a very competitive game that allows me to fulfil some things in my life, like that intense drive to try to become better," said Plummer, who spent the bulk of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos.

"It's not as intense as it was when I was younger and in the NFL... I just don't want to do that. I want handball to be fun, for the rest of my life."

Plummer loves handball so much he plays at least three times a week in Sandpoint, Idaho, where he lives with his wife Kollette. In addition to trying to improve so he can challenge for an Idaho state championship one day, Plummer wants to get out the word about handball. Being a former NFL quarterback certainly helps get that message out.

"I like playing 80-year-old guys down to 15-year-old kids. I get to play with my brothers, my dad and family. I've got a lot of good friends who are becoming better friends through the years and tournaments where you see them," he said. "It's a real neat community that handball has."

Just recently, Plummer and his partner lost in the Idaho state championship doubles final to Jake's older brothers Brett and Eric, who were the defending champions.

"My dad (Steve) was the Washington state champ and the Idaho state champ a couple of times, Eric has been the state champion numerous times and Brett was a state champ a few years ago," he said, grinning. "I played in the NFL for 10 years but I don't have a state championship. They have some fun with that. They always remind me, if I start thinking I'm getting good, that I'm the only one that doesn't have a state title."

He said he doesn't miss football or the locker-room camaraderie because he gets the same thing with handball.

"I had a lot of great buddies in the NFL but you're young, you're patted on the back so much you sometimes think you might be a little bit cooler than you really are. You're dealing with a lot of egos and guys that are doing things you might frown on," he said.

"Handball guys seem to be the salt-of-the-earth kind of guys. On the nights we play pick-up matches, we're having a couple beers, hanging out, talking, joking. There's 10 or 15 guys there and the camaraderie is there."

He said he considered retiring from football a year before he finally did because his body was getting beaten down. He had pain every day and was concerned about the impact on his quality of life later on. Handball has helped him look after all of that.

"Football never defined me. I loved the challenge of it, but when 10 years was up, I was ready to go," said the 195-pound Plummer, who has lost 20 pounds since retiring from football. "I know that I would not have been able to go as far as I did in sports without having played handball as a kid.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2009 C6

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