Super Bowl History: The 1980s-1990s


The face of football & the Super Bowl changed in the 1980s thanks to an entirely new philosophy of sports.


Super Bowl: New Strategy

Super Bowl history had been dominated by defense and the running game since Super Bowl I. The quarterback was always an important figure but was often simply used to manage the game. There were aggressive passing attacks, but these were seen more as a compliment to the run game. The vertical attack of the Air Coryell offense was the first real experiment in pass-heavy offense to bear fruit, but it took many revisions to finally find the winning formula. By the 1980s, the Oakland Raiders of John Madden had perfected the vertical passing game.


Super Bowl: Raider Football

As the Steel Curtain era of the Pittsburgh Steelers ended, and the Dallas Cowboys slowly slid into their decade of mediocrity, the West Coast of America became alive with Super Bowl contenders. Under the command of John Madden, the Oakland Raiders managed to be the best of this bunch going into Super Bowl XV. Veteran QB Jim Plunkett was the comeback kid of 1980, and his arm carried the speedy offense. Legendary CB Lester Hayes held down an aggressive defense. The two sides of the ball came together to absolutely destroy the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the Super Bowl.


Super Bowl: The West Coast

San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh had been a student of the Air Coryell offense but took those philosophies and forged his own style. Utilizing an accurate passer and short passing routes, the West Coast offense was born. No offense in football history would inspire as many imitators, and fans with Super Bowl tickets would see teams built around this offense win many rings in the coming decades. The San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s would come to personify the West Coast offense, and much of this was thanks to quarterback Joe Montana.


The development of Joe Montana pushed the San Francisco 49ers from a 6-10 team in 1980 to NFC West Champions in 1981. With one of the toughest players in NFL history, CB Ronnie Lott, in charge of the defense, few teams could stand up to the San Francisco 49ers. Super Bowl XVI saw the San Francisco 49ers meet the powerful Cincinnati Bengals. Super Bowl tickets not only sold out quickly, but the game itself set a TV ratings record that still stands today. It was a true dogfight between two great offenses, but the San Francisco 49ers took the Super Bowl victory.


Super Bowl: Old School

The Super Bowl took a step back from the passing attack and embraced the old ways for Super Bowls XVII and XVIII. Behind power back John Riggins and the famous "Hogs" offensive line, the Washington Redskins took the Super Bowl in 1984. The Los Angeles Raiders rampaged through the 1984 NFL season thanks to RB Marcus Allen and a lights-out defense led by Hall of Fame DE Howie Long. This old-school football allowed the Los Angeles Raiders to blow out the returning Washington Redskins 38-9.


Super Bowl: Montana vs. Marino

Super Bowl tickets in 1985 sold quickly as two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL would meet in Super Bowl XIX. QB Joe Montana and WR Jerry Rice were an unstoppable combination, with RB Rodger Craig providing another dimension to the offense. The Miami Dolphins were led by QB Dan Marino, already seen as one of the top players in the NFL. The quarterback duel would only last one quarter as the vicious defense of the San Francisco 49ers punished Dan Marino all game. The San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl XIX 38-16, but the best was yet to come.


Super Bowl: Da Bears

Defense was overshadowed by flash offense in the 1980s, but this certainly was not the case with the 1985 NFL season. Hard-nosed head coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan may have hated each other, but they had the Chicago Bears as the No. 1 defense in football. With LB Mike Singletary leading the newly crafted 46 defense, the 1985 Chicago Bears went 15-1, and the "Monsters of the Midway" gave opposing quarterbacks nightmares. Super Bowl XX saw the Chicago Bears slaughter the New England Patriots 48-10.


Super Bowl: Bill Parcells

For all the impact the West Coast offense of Bill Walsh had on football, it was answered defensively by New York Giants head coach Bill Parcels. With OLB Lawrence Taylor at his disposal, Bill Parcells redefined the 3-4 defense and brought the role of the pass rusher to the forefront. Loaded with excellent linebackers, the "Big Blue" defense teamed with QB Phil Simms to take the New York Giants to Super Bowl XXI against the Denver Broncos. Though young QB John Elway fought hard, the New York Giants defense took the day 39-20.


Super Bowl: Doug Williams

Fans with Super Bowl tickets in 1988 were treated to history as Washington Redskins QB Doug Williams was the first African-American quarterback to start the big game. The Cinderella story of Doug Williams was joined by that of RB Timmy Smith, who was an unknown making the start. John Elway had his Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl as well, and many thought Super Bowl XXII would give the superstar a ring. Instead the Denver Broncos were humiliated for a second-straight time thanks to the power run of the Washington Redskins in a 42-10 rout.


Super Bowl: The 49ers Return

The San Francisco 49ers returned as kings of the NFL in back-to-back Super Bowls. In Super Bowl XXIII, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice faced the withering offensive assault of the Cincinnati Bengals. The supernatural bond of Jerry Rice and Joe Montana hit its stride late and gave the San Francisco 49ers their third Super Bowl ring of the 1980s. As 1990 rolled around, the San Francisco 49ers were still atop the NFL and stormed into Super Bowl XXIV with high expectations. Again John Elway and the Denver Broncos were on the receiving end of an embarrassing loss.


Super Bowl: Changing of the Guard

The San Francisco 49ers and their West Coast offense had taken four Super Bowl victories in a decade, but like the Pittsburgh Steelers before them, they would fade into the background as new challengers rose thanks to great drafts and innovation. The 1990s would see the Dallas Cowboys return as "America's Team" and would raise the spectacle of the Super Bowl to heights never imagined before. Fans with Super Bowl tickets would also see John Elway and his Denver Broncos get their revenge for the 1980s.


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