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NFL - US Sports: Top five players of the 1980s

Thanks to Stranger Things the 1980s have become fashionable again, but when it comes to football the decade has always been remembered as iconic.

A crazy amount of quarterback talent emerged, the West Coast Offense was born and the NFC dominated the Super Bowl.

It was a time before free agency as we know it gave the players more power, when 'super teams' could be stockpiled with star names.

The NFL really has been turned upside down in the subsequent thirty-plus years, although iconic players to rival their forebears still emerge. But who were the five biggest talents of the epic 80s?

1. Joe Montana

Joe Montana won each of his four Super Bowl rings and the San Francisco 49ers' first four championships entirely within the 1980s, as he and his team became established as the team to beat every season.

He was the ringmaster of a scheme that changed the way the game was played and later became known as the 'West Coast Offense'.

Drawn up by legendary Niners coach Bill Walsh, it involved Montana making quick, accurate, short passes to receivers not far from the line of scrimmage and shunning the run game in the early portion of the game.

"Joe Cool" was precise and calm enough to engineer long drives that wore down opponents' defenses and set the game up for longer passes or rushing attempts later on.

With receivers like Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, and John Taylor at his side, Montana led San Francisco to seven division titles and four Super Bowls - winning them all and taking MVP honours in the 55-10 steamrollering of the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl XXIV.

No quarterback in the decade could get within 2,500 passing yards of his accumulated 30,958 and his 63.9 per cent completion rate was four points better than any other triggerman who finished in the top 25 QBs of the era.

He remains arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time.

2. Lawrence Taylor

L.T. was a rare talent who made an impact as soon as he landed with the New York Giants in 1981.

One of the rare defensive players who could dominate a game, he remains the only player to have won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.

The 10-time Pro Bowler averaged just over 15 sacks per season from 1985 through 1989 - his best year coming in 1986 when he posted 20.5 sacks and helped the Giants win their first Super Bowl.

He also took league MVP honours that year and remains the last defensive player to do so.

3. Jerry Rice

Despite only entering the league midway through the decade, Jerry Rice had the second-most receiving touchdowns of the 1980s and a receiving yards per game average that outpaced all others to line up on the outside during that ten-year span.

He was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1985, Receiving Yards leader in '86 and '89 and Offensive Player of the Year in '87.

During that strike-shortened season, he had 1,078 receiving yards and a then-record 22 touchdown receptions in just 12 games.

Rice took game MVP honours following the San Francisco 49ers' defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, in which he had 11 receptions for 215 yards to earn the first of two rings within the decade.

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4. Ronnie Lott

After excelling as a cornerback in his first four seasons, Ronnie Lott moved to safety in 1985 and only added to his legacy as one of the game's greatest and most hard-hitting defensive backs.

Just to illustrate his toughness, Lott actually chose to have the tip of his left pinky finger amputated after the 1985 season when it was crushed in a tackle, because undergoing bone graft surgery instead would not have allowed him to start the 1986 season.

Alongside Montana, he was one of five players who were on all four 1980s San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl wins.

5. Eric Dickerson

Eric Dickerson edges out Walter Payton as the top running back of the decade because his numbers say so.

Between the 1980 and 1989 seasons, Dickerson accumulated the most rushing yards with 11,226 yards - almost 1,500 more than Payton, despite appearing in 12 fewer games.

For the Los Angeles Rams, and latterly the Indianapolis Colts, he averaged a whopping 106.9 yards per game on the ground - more than 23 yards per game more than Payton did in the 80s.

His 82 rushing TDs in the decade are way ahead of the rest, with Marcus Allen next in line, but 19 adrift on 63.

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