Is there a better way to reminisce about 1980's pro football than to think back to the great quarterbacks of that era? Not that I can think of...so, I have put together a list of my top 5 quarterbacks of the 1980's (with video evidence). Now, please note, this list would certainly be revised if we were discussing all-time great quarterbacks, or even just great quarterbacks from 1980 to 2000. However, the short list below only refers to quarterbacks and there accomplishments in the 1980's - accomplishments during the 1970's or 1990's have not been taken into account while formulating this list.
1. Joe Montana
It's difficult to argue with a serious face that Joe Montana is not the greatest quarterback of the 1980's. He won 4 Superbowls from 1981-1989, 3 Superbowl MVP awards, he had a 13-4 record in the playoffs during the 1980's, and was named by many, including John Madden, as the "greatest quarterback who ever played". Additionally, aside from all of the victories and awards, Montana had arguably some of the best quarterbacking fundamentals ever. Those fundamentals are demonstrated in these great Bill Walsh instructional videos:
The remaining 5 videos can be found here 3 of 7, 4 of 7, 5 of 7, 6 of 7, 7 of 7. The next video is one of numerous highlight videos that you can find online demonstrating the many great plays of Joe Montana.
2. Dan Marino
Dan Marino burst onto the pro football scene as a rookie in 1983, throwing 20 touchdown passes and over 2,000 yards in only 9 games. In the next 6 years, he would twice throw over 40 touchdowns in a season, he would pass for over 5,000 yards once, and he would pass for over 4,700 and 4,400 yards in 1986 and 1988. He had a 3-2 playoff record during the 1980's, leading the Miami Dolphins to a Superbowl appearance in the 1984 season, and an appearance in the 1985 AFC Championship game. Unfortunately for Marino, during the 1980's (as well as throughout most of his career) the Miami Dolphins had extreme difficulty establishing a rushing attack, and had a porous defense. According to National Football League statistics, from the years 1983 to 1989, the Miami Dolphins' rushing attack ranked 13, 16, 18, 25, 23, 28 (last) and 27, respectively. To make matters worse, the Miami Dolphins' total defense from 1983 to 1989, ranked 7, 19, 23, 26, 26, 26, and 24, respectively. Marino may have been a tremendous quarterback, arguably one of the best ever, but serious deficiencies in the teams that he played on likely prevented him from appearing in multiple Superbowls, and winning at least one Superbowl.
3. John Elway
John Elway may not have had the stunning statistics that Dan Marino had, but Elway did lead his team to 3 Superbowl appearances during the 1980's. He is also famous for a number of game winning drives, specifically "The Drive" against the Cleveland Browns in 1986:
Other highlights of John Elway are set forth below.
4. Dan Fouts
Before Dan Marino came along, Dan Fouts was torching defenses through the air. Fouts threw for over 4,700 yards in both 1980 and 1981 (both new league records at the time), and passed for 30 and 33 touchdowns in those years, respectively. In 1982, Fouts averaged an NFL record at the time of 320 passing yards per game. Fouts' San Diego Chargers qualified for the playoffs in 1980, 1981 and 1982, and Fouts played in 2 AFC Championship games (although he never made an appearance in a Superbowl). Unfortunately for Fouts, the defenses of the San Diego Chargers were in the bottom ten of the NFL from 1981-1986.
5. Boomer Esiason
Boomer Esiason was named to the Pro Bowl in 1986, 1988 and 1989. He was also named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1988, and led his Cincinnati Bengals to an appearance in the 1988 Superbowl. Esiason excelled at the play-action-passing, an example of which can be seen at the 2:00 mark of the following video:
The complexities of the Cinncinati Bengal's offense, and Esiason's mastery of that offense, are demonstrated in this video:
If the statistics and accomplishments of these 5 quarterbacks don't look that impressive when compared to the top 5 quarterbacks of today's NFL (or even the top 10 quarterbacks of today's NFL), much of that may be attributable to rule changes over the years that have given quarterbacks and passing offenses a better chance of success than they had in the 1980's. Passer's Paradise: The Evolution of the NFL Aerial Attack, highlights many of the rule changes and their effects on both quarterback play and quarterback statistics. Since the 1980's, NFL rules have been altered to, among other things, provide more protection for quarterbacks and enforce more stringently the 5 yard contact rule. One could reasonably conclude that the quarterback play of the top 5 quarterbacks of the 1980's would improve dramatically under today's altered and more pass-happy rules.
Honorable mentions, in no particular order:
1. Joe Theisman's Washington Redskins won Superbowl XVII and made an appearance in Superbowl XVIII. Theisman may have made it into the top 5 had his career not been cut short by a leg injury he sustained against the New York Giants in 1985.
2. Phil Simms led the New York Giants to the playoffs in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1989. Simms' Giants won Superbowl XXI, wherein Simms completed 22 of 25 passes (2 of the 3 incompletions were drops by his receivers), and he threw for 3 touchdowns.
3. Danny White led the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985. White's Cowboys made appearances in the three consecutive NFC Championsip games from 1980-1982.
4. Although Neil Lomax only led the St. Louis Cardinals to the playoffs once, Lomax passed for 24 or more touchdowns 3 times, and almost passed for 4,700 yards in 1984.
5. Ron Jaworski led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Superbowl appearance in 1980 and to the playoffs in 1981.
6. Dave Krieg's Seattle Seahawks made playoff appearances in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1988. Krieg threw at least 21 touchdowns in 5 difference seasons during the 1980's, and his Seahawks made an appearance in the 1983 AFC Championship Game.
7. Warren Moon's Houston Oilers made it to the playoffs in 1987, 1988 and 1989. Moon also had an outstanding career in the Canadian Football League before he joined the Houston Oilers. Had Moon been in the NFL during the 1980-1983 seasons, he may have made in into my top 5 list.
8. Jim Plunkett's Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders made playoff appearances in 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984, and Plunkett was named the MVP of Superbowl XV. Plunkett also led the Raiders to a victory in Superbowl XVIII.