The Best Football Players of the 80s

American football is a passion for many in this country, with fans making sure to watch every game and follow their favorite players religiously. Every game has its defining moments, with the best players usually holding an important role in making football a definite part of the American sporting experience. There’s no doubt that the history of football is one that’s worth pursuing.

While American football has no doubt been memorable for several decades, the 80s was a different story. To this date, many football fans reminisce about the magical moments and memories about football that were created within this decade. There were, no doubt, many players who contributed to these moments, but let’s now take a look at some of the best on the field during that era:

1. Tony Dorsett:

Dorsett is inarguably among the greatest players of the game, even though his major seasons were in the 1970s. Even if we don’t count these within this list, this football player had no less than five 1,000-yard campaign during his 80s spell.

2. James Lofton:

This player had an impressive run right when the 80s started. Unfortunately, his output declined due to both internal and external factors. The receiver also suffered a negative impact from his off-field issues as the 80s wore on.

3. Reggie White:

Boasting an amazing 81 sacks in just five years, there’s no doubt that this player would have accomplished even more if he had played longer. Still, he did cut a formidable player when playing with the Eagles.

4. Art Monk:

The most impressive feat of this player was probably his 106-ball haul back in 1984. He actually became the first-ever NFL receiver to cross the century mark for this accomplishment.

5. Randy White:

This player played the dominant defensive tackle in football for five years (1980-1985). In each of these seasons, he managed to earn Pro Bowl honors, which is no mean feat.

6. Mike Singletary:

Singletary was the leader for the Bears defense in both 1985 and 1986. It was due to his efforts that this group dominated the league during these years.

7. Roger Craig:

Craig deserves recognition for his 1985 season alone. It was then that he recorded a thousand yards both rushing and receiving.

8. Marcus Allen:

Allen was the MVP for 1985 and had excellent numbers in the first four years as well. However, there was a definite decline in his performance since then.

9. John Hannah:

Hannah might be the best offensive lineman this game has ever seen. He played for six seasons in the 80s and managed the Pro Bowl honors in each of them.

10. Steve Largent:

By the time he retired, Largent had already made his mark in 80s football history. He was the all-time NFL leader for receptions, both in touchdowns and yards.

11. Walter Payton:

With the nickname ‘Sweetness’, this player gave a lot to his teams and the game. However, this all-round player had his best run in the ‘70s, though he was still very much dependable during the 80s.

12. Howie Long:

The 80s were good to Long, especially the period between 1983 to 1985. Even though he had to compete with the likes of Reggie White, Richard Dent, and Fred Dean, the accomplishments of this player are still remarkable.

13. John Elway:

Elway’s position was the playmaking quarterback for the 80s, though he’s also known as a brilliant comeback artist. Though he did have his hardships in his first three seasons, he finally managed to earn the NFL MVP Award in 1987.

14. Eric Dickerson:

His first two seasons of the 80s were the high point for this player. No matter what position we talk about, Dickerson had the best debut for any player in the NFL league history. Unfortunately, contractual issues and some public complaints distracted his teams, which hurt his own performance as well.

15. Jerry Rice:

While he was a bit slow in getting his superstardom, Rice had a promising start that eventually took him to the Hall of Fame. His rookie season in the middle of the 80s ended with sweeping other teams under the mat quite easily.

His top seasons consisted of more than a thousand yards and several touchdowns each. By the time 1990 came around, Rice was hailed as one of the best players in the game.

16. Anthony Muñoz:

With first-team All-Pro selection in 8 seasons, there’s no doubt that Anthony Muñoz belongs in the top 5 football players of the 80s. He is believed to be one of two best tackles within the whole history of pro football. His performance might surely compete with the top 5 NFL moments of the 21st century!

However, he did miss two years for these honors, which were 1980 and 1984. There, he was only the second-team All-Pro. Plus, this payer was also a front-line starter for two Super Bowl teams.

17. Dan Marino:

Marino had about 7 seasons during the 80s, with three of them being his most successful. It was in those games that he earned the first-team All-Pro honors. His hit rate was impressive, and he was deemed to be the absolute best player in the field at a very important position most of the time.

Remember, the 80s were an era where defensive backs had the flexibility of an aggressive play. This might be partly why his campaign during the 1984 season was among the most striking offensive seasons within the history of NFL. With 48 touchdowns and around 5,084 yards, his feats are surely something to remember for a lifetime.

18. Ronnie Lott:

Some might consider Lott as being the best safety in NFL history. Most of his career was in what we know as the Cabbage Patch decade. However, his cornerback position also brought him a lot of accolades. In 1985, he actually played both of these positions. His contributions led to San Francisco winning four Super Bowls in the 80s decade.

19. Lawrence Taylor:

Lawrence Taylor, known to many fans as simply LT, is one of just two players who have won the Associated Press NFL MVP award. He won this honor in 1986, with 20.5 sacks while playing with the Giants. Perhaps his lowest season was in 1987, though he did end up earning the first-team All-Pro honors through Pro Football Weekly even then.

20. Joe Montana:

With his quarterback position, Montana was in a much better position to impact more games than his equally talented counterparts. Some might also argue that his performance was simply superior, placing him among the topmost football payers of the 8s.

Montana’s performance included 11 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, and MVP honors for three games. He was also a major player in no less than four Super Bowl wins.


The best players of any decade are determined by several factors. These include the number of seasons they were active in, along with the level of performance for those seasons. Of course, the performance and inclusion depended on a number of other factors, such as the player’s health.

These criteria are applicable for the best football players of the 80s as well as those for other decades and even other sports. If you liked the list above, you might want to check out some of the top footballers of all time as well.

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