The Most Memorable NFL Quarterbacks of the 1980s

How do you measure the greatest quarterbacks of National Football League? Should Super Bowl wins or stats alone be the deciding factor? Does throwing for more yards in a season outweigh the fewest interceptions during a career? I put these theories to the test with a series of informal (and non-scientific) polls where I quizzed fans of the NFL on their opinions of the greatest quarterbacks of the 1980s.

My findings were such that Joe Montana was the overwhelming choice as the most memorable NFL quarterback of the 1980s. All of these QBs done a pretty good job of wanting to be the absolute best players in the NFL, which is precisely why the are on this list. The following quarterbacks, including Montana, were chosen as the greatest QBs of my childhood.

1. Joe Montana

Make no mistake, the San Francisco 49ers where the most dominate NFL team in the 90s era. The West Coast offensive utilized and perfected by 49ers Head Coach, Joe Walsh, was instrumental in allowing Joe Montana to catapult the team to greatness. But success in the 90s for Joe Montana, Joe Walsh and the 49ers was a direct result of the foundation he established after being drafted in 1979, 82nd overall, by San Fran.

Some might say that Montana was a great QB because he had Hall of Fame receivers like Jerry Rice. Others will offer that the receiving corps of the San Francisco 49ers only enjoyed success because of Montana’s abilities. My point of views is such that neither player would have had All-Star seasons without cohesiveness. One complemented the other. For me, the debate is similar to the chicken and the egg controversy.

To quote Allan Maki, from his book, “Football’s Greatest Stars,” about Joe Montana, “What sets Joe Montana apart from virtually every other quarterback before or since was his flair for the dramatic, the theatrical.” In “Joe Cool” Montana’s mind everything was possible. Every deficit could be overcome. No mountain was insurmountable.

During Montana’s four Super Bowl appearances (all wins) he completed nearly 70 percent of his attempts. Here are a few more of Montana’s most notable achievements:

8 Pro Bowls: 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1994. 3-time Super Bowl MVP: 1981, 1984, 1989 Holds Super Bowl record for the most TD passes (11). Passing TD leader: 1982, 1987 40,551 yards passing (career)

2. Dan Marino

When NFL fans discuss great football QBs, Dan Marino tops the list for a number of friends. The Pittsburgh native was drafted 27th overall by the Miami Dolphins in 1983, same year as John Elway and four other QBs. The draft class of 1983 is often believed to be the greatest year for QBs being drafted in the 1st round.

Few quarterbacks are blessed with a strong throwing arm, accuracy and mechanical precision. During the 17 years in the NFL, all with the Miami Dolphins, Dan Marino consistently delivered the ball with power and crispness — practically like the cracking of a bull whip — and seemed to effortlessly adjust his throwing technique. Marino, a proven leader both on the field and in the community, seamlessly alternated his throwing style to fit the situation: long-ball threat, mid-range efficiency, and expert covert play action ability.

Dan Marino was also drafted by the K.C. Royals along with Elway in 1979. Marino had a spectacular NFL career. Some of his major accomplishments are:

Rookie Season (11 games): Rookie of the year, 2,210 yds, 20 TDs and 96.0 QB rating 9 Pro Bowls: 1984-1988, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996 Career passing yards: 61,361 4,967 passes completed 420 TDs

3. John Elway

The sentimental favorite among everyone I know, as well as NFL fans everywhere, is John Elway. As another draft choice from the famed 1983 draft (1st pick, 1st round by Baltimore Colts), Elway enjoyed “one of the most highly-publicized” careers according to Allan Maki. After being drafted by the Colts Elway was dealt to the Denver Broncos for an insignificant set of players — quarterback Mark Hermann and OL Chris Hunt — and a future first-round draft choice. Game, set and match Denver! Almost immediately, Elway impacted the offensive production.

Elway, after being drafted by the K.C. Royals in 1979, played for two seasons in the minors for the New York Yankees. Proof that “Smiling John” had a deadly arm and great throwing mechanics. However, had Elway not corralled, saddled and rode those two Super Bowls (out of five), history might not have been so kind to him.

The former Stanford superstar had many accomplishment during his decade and a half career. His most impressive performances are marked by the late-quarter comebacks. Other Elway milestones are:

Career year (1993): 16 games, 4,030 yds, 25 TDs, 10 INTs NFL MVP: 1987, Super Bowl MVP: 1999 Pro Bowl (9): 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997-1999 51,475 career passing yards 300 TDs

Final Thoughts

The National Football League has proved to be a major influence in American culture. Regardless of your favorite team, city you live in, or most memorable moment, the NFL has highly-specialized palyers at every position. Some just receive more exposure.

Read more from this contributor:
“The Rise of Unnecessary Roughness in the National Football League”
“Which Team Has the Best Linebacking Corps in the NFL?”
“How Can I Prevent Toenail Fungus”

Allan Maki, “Football’s Greatest Stars” (2008), “Greatest NFL Quarterbacks of the 1980s”
James Whitlock, Fox Sports on MSN, “The 10 greatest QBs of all-time”, “’s top QBs”

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