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The 10 Best Quarterbacks Of The 1980s

The 1980s were the beginning of modern football as we know it. The mid-80s saw the development of the spread offense, as teams began to move to a four-receiver set, in order to create room on the field for athleticism and big play-making. By taking the focus off reading plays to perfection and giving quarterbacks the freedom to make plays on the go, the game saw the rise of big-play quarterbacks, and the kind of stats we’ve now come to expect from top tier QBs. These are the 10 best QB’s to take the field in the 1980s, along with their most notable accomplishments…

Photo: insidethestar.com/Jess Haynie
  1. Danny White – Dallas Cowboys (1976-1988)

After an unhappy start to his NFL career, Danny White began playing for the Memphis Southern in the World Football League, an offshoot of the NFL. Once that broke apart, the Cowboys opted to bring him aboard as a punter and backup for future Hall of Famer Roger Staubach.

In 1980, White began as the new Cowboys’ starter and went on to take the Cowboys to four postseasons in a row, including three NFC championship games. Unfortunately, Danny might be better known for being on the ugly end of the notorious play, “The Catch”, between Joe Montana and Dwight Clark. Many believe if the Cowboys had beaten the 49ers, White would have taken them to a Super Bowl Victory. White ended his career with 155 touchdowns, 132 interceptions, 21,959 yards, and an 81.7 QB rating.

Photo: nflpastplayers.com/NFL
  1. Joe Theismann – Washington Redskins (1974-1985)

Joe Theismann started his career on the bench as a third-string QB for the Redskins, finally taking over the starting position in 1978. Joe took the Redskins to the Super Bowl twice, defeating the Miami Dolphins in 1982, and then losing to the Raiders in 1983. He was the Offensive Player of the Year in 1983, and league MVP in 1984.

Theismann’s career ended in 1985 when he was sacked by Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, a hit that would end up breaking both of his legs. He would have likely ranked higher on this list if not for that single play, as he’d have played several more seasons.

Photo: www.bengals.com/NFL
  1. Boomer Esiason – Cincinnati Bengals (1984-1992)

Norman (Boomer) Esiason took over the QB position for the Bengals from Pro-Bowler and MVP Ken Anderson, and was the sole quarterback in the 80s to average over eight yards per passing attempt. He also has the highest average per completion, at 14.2 yards, of any quarterback from the decade. A three-time Pro Bowler, Boomer went to the Super Bowl only once with the Bengals, and had a terrible game – though it should be mentioned that he did win League MVP that year. He finished his career with 247 TDs, 184 INTs, 37,920 passing yards, and a QB rating of 81.1.

Photo: www.profootballhof.com/NFL
  1. Ken Anderson – Cincinnati Bengals (1971-1986)

Anderson took the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 1981, losing to Joe Montana and the 49ers. Interestingly, he still won MVP that year thanks to solid stats. Anderson held the single season completion record in 1982, with 70.2% pass completions, until that record was broken by Drew Brees in 2009. A four-time Pro Bowler, he finished his career with 197 TDs, 160 INTs, 32,838 yards, and a QB rating of 81.9.

Photo: www.raiders.com/Las Vegas Raiders
  1. Jim Plunkett – Oakland Raiders (1978-1986)

Jim Plunkett captured two Super Bowl victories for the Oakland Raiders, in 1980 and 1983. He is the only QB with two Super Bowl wins not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Maybe his name was too cool? He ended his football career with 25,882 yards, 164 TDs, and 198 INTs. Another fun bit of 80s football trivia: Plunkett was also the first QB to win a Super Bowl as a wild card entry. 

Photo: www.nfl.com/David Durochik/Associated Press
  1. Bernie Kosar – Cleveland Browns (1985-1993)

Bernie bros beware; no, not that Bernie, but rather the Bernie that took the Browns – yes, the Cleveland Browns – to the playoffs five times in a row beginning in 1985. He went onto the AFC Championship game three times, losing to the Denver Broncos and John Elway all three times. Ouch. Bernie set the record for most playoff passing yards (489) and barely squeaked an overtime playoff a win over the Jets. Again, this was with the Browns. He ended his career with 23,301 yards, 124 TDs, and 87 INTs. Also, it might be worth mentioning that he looks more like an accountant than a football player.

Photo: gramho.com/@gmenarmy
  1. Phil Simms – NY Giants (1979-1993)

Phil Simms owns two Super Bowl rings; he was a Super Bowl MVP, a two-time Pro Bowler, First-Team All-Pro, his number 11 has been retired by the Giants, and has been ensconced in the NY Giants Ring of Honor. He could really throw the rock around.

His career wasn’t always so bright – Simms wasn’t what the Giants were hoping for until 1984, when he had a killer season and passed for over 4,000 yards. He ended his football career with 33,462 yards, 199 TDs, 157 INTs, a 78.8 QB rating.

Photo: www.phinzone.com/Miami Dolphins
  1. Dan Marino – Miami Dolphins (1983-1999)

Coming from the Univ. of Pittsburgh as a 27th pick, Dan Marino reshaped almost the entire offensive record book during the course of his career. He earned Rookie of the Year, and nine Pro Bowl selections; became the first player to ever pass for over 5,000 yards; and was a League MVP. Despite throwing for 61,363 yards and 420 TDs in a 242-game long career, Marino only has one Super Bowl appearance and zero Super Bowl wins, losing Super Bowl XIX to Joe Montana and the 49ers.

Photo: www.nfl.com/Al Messerschmidt/Associated Press
  1. John Elway – Denver Broncos (1983-1998)

With five Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl victories (albeit in the ‘90s), John Elway was one of the all-time greats. Playing his entire career with the Broncos, Elway was up and down in terms of performance, though he was always clutch late in the game, or in a crunch. He will forever be remembered as one of the best QB’s of all time. He finished with 51,475 yards, 300 TDs, and 226 interceptions. Elway was an eight-time Pro Bowler, 1987 NFL Player of the Year, 1993 AFC Player of the Year, 1998 Super Bowl MVP, and Hall of Famer as of 2000.

Photo: www.libertaddigital.com/Cordon Press
  1. Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers (1979-1992)

Sitting comfortably at number one is the one and only, the Golden Great, Joe Montana – the greatest QB of the 1980s. With a career total of 40,551 yards, 273 TDs, 139 INTs, and a lifetime QB rating of 92.3, this guy is the GOAT of his time. A Super Bowl MVP three times, AP Male Athlete of the Year two times, NFC Player of the Year, Sports illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, National College Champion (with Notre Dame), seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time Super Bowl winner, the 1990 NFL MVP, and of course a Hall of Famer, Joe did it all without weird antics on – or off – the field. Joe Montana broke many fellow QB’s hearts on this list by defeating their teams in clutch playoff games, earning him the title of the best QB of the 1980s.