Where’s the Beef?: the Top 5 Quarterbacks of the 1980s

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The 1980s were an interesting time in history. For some reason, men thought this hairdo was a good idea, women thought these guys were sexy as all hell, and people were surprised when George Michael turned out to be gay. Needless to say, as a society we didn’t exactly have our fingers on the pulse of keen perception.

But one thing we couldn’t miss – no matter how compromised our brains had been by excess intake of Tab cola and hairspray fumes – was how unbelievably talented the NFL quarterbacks of the 1980s were. And here are the top five.

5 Boomer Esiason

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Norman Julius (now you know why he went with ‘Boomer’) Esiason was drafted by the Bengals in the 2nd round of the ’84 draft and proved to be a solid investment. Boomer went to three Pro Bowls, won the MVP and took the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1988, where they lost to Joe Montana and the ‘Niners by just 4 points. It doesn’t hurt that Boomer was camera-friendly too, starring in TV appearances that included playing Goldilocks in a Diet Coke commercial, and just generally looking like a legit porn star in post-game interviews.

4 Dan Fouts

The 1980s were actually the latter half of Fouts’ career, but his arm and his stellar beard were still as strong as ever. Fouts led the league in passing yards from ’80-’82, averaging a whopping 320 passing yards per game in ’82, and led in both touchdowns and completions twice. He went to five Pro Bowls and made two trips to the AFC Championship, but thanks to the Chargers’ horrendous defense, Fouts never won the big one (a phenomenon that would later come to be known as “Getting Marino’d”).

3 John Elway

Elway was drafted first overall in 1983 by the Baltimore Colts, who promptly traded him to Denver, then we assume promptly began kicking themselves for the next ten years. Elway quickly became one of the league’s elite quarterbacks, going to three Pro Bowls, winning an MVP and leading his team to three Super Bowl appearances. He established a reputation as the king of the comeback, leading perhaps the most famous game-winning drive ever, though that didn’t help him in the big one, as the Broncos lost in all three of their trips to the Super Bowl in the 80s (a phenomenon that would later come to be known as “Getting Jim Kelly’d”).

2 Dan Marino

If you were forced at gunpoint to name the sixth quarterback taken in the ‘83 draft, you’d be as good as dead, because you’d be hard-pressed to believe it was Dan Marino. The Dolphins snagged Marino with the 27th pick, and he became an instant sensation. From ’84-’86 Marino led the league in yards, touchdowns and completions, and became the first QB ever to throw for 5,000 yards in season. Statistically, he blew everyone away, including Montana (Marino threw more TD passes in the 80s despite having played three fewer seasons), going to five Pro Bowls and winning an MVP. But sadly, Marino’s cannon arm and lustrous 80s locks went to waste, as a useless rushing game and porous defense saw his Dolphins make just one Super Bowl appearance, where they lost to the ‘Niners.

1 Joe Montana

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Widely considered to be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, it was mostly Joe Montana’s performance from 1980-89 that earned him that honor. Montana was the model of precision, passing for nearly 31,000 yards, leading the league in completion percentage five times and going to six Pro Bowls in the 80s. But the postseason was when “Joe Cool” became a legend. Montana went 13-4 in the playoffs, won four Super Bowls and three Super Bowl MVP’s in the ten-year span. And just for good measure, Joe Montana not only defined the decade on the field, he also looked like an 80s soap star off of it. Got to love that hair.

Honorable Mentions:

Phil Simms – Simms took the Giants to the playoffs four times and won the Super Bowl and game MVP in ’86; a game that will forever be marred by the memory of Bill Parcells’ hideous 80s sweater.

Joe Theisman – Joe was a two-time Pro-Bowler and one-time MVP who won the Super Bowl with the Redskins in ’82. He may have been higher on the list had his career not ended prematurely when Lawrence Taylor snapped his leg like peanut brittle in 1985.

Man, the 80s really had it all: the best bad music, the greatest bad movies and some seriously legendary quarterbacking. So can you think of any QB’s who rocked the 80s hard but somehow slipped through the cracks on our list? If so, why not throw together a list of your own? Just stay away from easy George Michael jokes; that’s our territory.

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