1980s Sports: History, Facts, MVPs & Champions


Sports in the 1980s were dominated by a select few. The names will ring on in sports history forever.


Joe Montana, possibly the best quarterback of all time. Mike Tyson, the most feared boxer to walk the planet. Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, the best rivalry in the history of sports.

Everyone remembers: Bo knows, right?

Baseball, however had quite the variety of champions. At least it wasn’t the Yankees every year like it had been in so many decades past.

George Brett and Robin Yount were two of the best hitters in the game. While we saw one of the most promising young pitchers since Bob Gibson in Dwight “Doc” Gooden.

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Sports in 1980


Baseball was great in 1980, the never say never attitude, “Wait ’til next year,” really, truly paid off. The Philadelphia Phillies, who hadn’t even won a pennant since 1950, won the World Series for the first time.

Their opponents, the Kansas City Royals, were another team that hadn’t seen much prosperity over the years. They only topped their division 3 times previously, losing all AL Championship Series. This was their first World Series appearance, a World Series loss.

In 1980, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton won the NL Cy Young Award, with a 24-9 record, 3.11 ERA, and 286 strikeouts.

The winner of the AL Cy Young was 10-year veteran Steve Stone, who had a 25-7 record, 3.23 ERA, and 149 strikeouts.

MVP awards went to George Brett of the Royals (AL), and Mike Schmidt of the Phillies (NL). Both of these MVPs were future Hall of Fame members.

Four men were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980: RF Al Kaline, RF Chuck Klein, CF Duke Snider, and Executive Tom Yawkey.


1980 was a year of many different #1 teams. Kentucky, preseason favorites, were upset in their first game. Indiana was then #1 until their star forward, Mike Woodson, got hurt. Duke was #1 until after Christmas, when they were upset. Then DePaul was first, until they lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

In the finals, underdogs UCLA played against Louisville. UCLA had been the 2nd to last team invited, yet blew their way through their opponents. Louisville, on the other hand, won the Metro Seven Conference title, and played their way to the Final. UCLA did quite well during most of the game, but later made too many mistakes. In the final 32 seconds, Louisville went on a rally, scoring 9 unanswered points, winning the NCAA Championship game.


In an exciting finish to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers won the Championship Finals in 6 games. Their opponents, the Philadelphia 76ers, had beaten the Celtics, who were best in the league.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was hurt in the fifth game, spraining his ankle after scoring 40 points. His replacement for game six was Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a star rookie.

Johnson, who was smaller, younger, and weaker than the 76ers center Darryl Dawkins, was not expected to play very well. But play he did, scoring 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. Just a rookie, Magic Johnson had led his team to victory in the final game, and was named the playoff MVP.

1980 was a year for young talent. Magic was great, but didn’t win the Rookie of the Year Award. That went to the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird.

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980 were Jerry West, Oscar P. Robertson, and Jerry R. Lucas.


Muhammad Ali came back to boxing for one last bout in 1980, at age 38. Ali, knocked out for the first time, was beaten by Larry Holmes, and proved that Ali was no longer “the greatest.”

The heavyweight title was decided in two fights, with three contenders. First, undefeated John Tate was mere seconds away from the title when he was knocked out by Mike Weaver. Next, Mike Weaver was challenged by Gerrie Coetzee of South Africa. Weaver knocked out Coetzee in 13 rounds, and was declared heavyweight champion of the World.

The welterweight title went to Roberto Duran, after beating an undefeated “Sugar Ray” Leonard. In the first fight of two, Duran beat Leonard in a classic fight. In the rematch, Leonard and Duran went eight rounds, but Duran quit, complaining of stomach cramps.


The Heisman Award went to George Rogers of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

In the pre-season AP Poll, the Ohio State Buckeyes were thought to be the best in the nation, but were proved wrong in week 3 versus the #11 UCLA Bruins.

By the end of the season, the Georgia Bulldogs were declared the #1 team by the AP Poll. They went on to win the Sugar Bowl 17-10 against #7 Notre Dame.

#2 Florida State lost to #4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 18-17.

In the Rose Bowl, #5 Michigan overcame #16 Washington, 23-6.

The Cotton Bowl saw the defeat of #6 Baylor vs. #9 Alabama, 30-2.

In the Gator Bowl, #3 Pittsburgh trumped #18 South Carolina, 37-9.

Pre-season favorite OSU, now #11, lost to #10 Penn State, 31-19.

#8 Nebraska topped #17 Mississippi in the Sun Bowl, 31-17.


To make it to Super Bowl XV, the Raiders had to play in multiple playoff games, first against the Cleveland Browns. They won that game on a final play by the Browns, now known as Red Right 88. The Raiders intercepted the Browns pass in the end zone to win the game.

The Raiders also won the AFC Championship game against the San Diego Chargers, 34-27.

In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys won the Wild Card playoff game, and won against Atlanta in the Divisional Playoffs. Philadelphia ended Minnesota’s season in the Divisional Playoffs, 31-16.

In the NFC Championship, Philadelphia held Dallas to 7 points, defeating them, 20-7.

In an exciting end to the season, the Wild Card Oakland Raiders defeated the Phiadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, 27-10.


The 1980 Summer Olympics, hosted by the Soviet Union in Moscow, were boycotted by many athletes and their countries. Led by Jimmy Carter and the U.S., sixty-five countries refused to participate in protest of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. As a result, only 80 countries participated.

However, the Games weren’t necessarily boring. More records were broken in 1980 than the previous Summer Olympics in Montreal. Over 100 records were broken in all including 36 World records, 39 European records and 74 Olympic records.

In the end, the top 3 countries scored as following: #1 (Host) Soviet Union with 80 Gold medals, 69 Silver medals, and 46 Bronze medals; #2 East Germany with 47 Gold medals, 37 Silver medals, and 42 Bronze medals; #3 Bulgaria with 8 Gold medals, 16 Silver medals, and 17 Bronze medals.


The 1980 Winter Olympics, hosted by the United States in Lake Placid, New York, were attended by 37 countries around the world. Even though Jimmy Carter had boycotted the Summer Olympics, the Soviet Union and Communist countries still attended the Winter Games.

In the U.S. highlight of the Games, the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviet Union in an unprecedented victory. Now known as the “Miracle On Ice”, the U.S. scored the winning goal in the medal round with just five seconds left, 4-3.

U.S. speed skater Eric Heiden won all five of the available Gold medals in speedskating. To this day, Heiden is the only Winter Olympian to win 5 Gold medals in one Games.

At the conclusion of these Games, the top 3 countries scored as following: #1 Soviet Union with 10 Gold medals, 6 Silver medals, and 6 Bronze medals; #2 East Germany 9 Gold medals, 7 Silver medals, and 7 Bronze medals; #3 United States with 6 Gold medals, 4 Silver medals, and 2 Bronze medals.

Sports in 1981


The World Series was an exciting one, between the AL Champion New York and NL Champion Los Angeles. The Yankees won the first 2 games, and may have looked like they would sweep the Series, but it wasn’t to be. Los Angeles swept the rest of the Series, winning 4 games in a row. Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, and Steve Yeager were named the Series MVPs.

In 1981, Rollie Fingers won the AL MVP and the AL Cy Young Award. Fernando Valenzuela won the NL Cy Young Award and the NL Rookie of the Year. Mike Schmidt won the NL MVP. Dave Righetti won the AL Rookie of the Year.

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981 were: Manager Rube Foster, pitcher Bob Gibson, and first baseman Johnny Mize.


Even though pre-season polls placed them at just #4, the Indiana Hoosiers went on to win the NCAA Championship, and take the #1 place in the Men’s basketball Finals.

The Hoosiers played against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Finals. After a first half that was almost an even match, the Hoosiers broke away in the second half, eventually winning 63-50.

In the National Invitional Tounament (NIT), the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes defeated the Syracuse Orange in the Finals. By the end of an extremely close game, the final score was 86-84.


In the NBA Championship, the Boston Celtics faced the Houston Rockets. In a six game playoff, the Celtics defeated the Rockets, 4-2.

In the first game, the Celtics won 98-95.
In the second game, the Rockets won 92-90.
In the third game, the Celtics won 94-71.
In the fourth game, the Rockets won 91-86.
In the fifth game, the Celtics won 109-80.
In the final game, the Celtics won 102-91.

Future Hall of Fame member Kevin E. McHale made his NBA debut in 1981, with the Boston Celtics.


In the most widely publicized event of the year, welterweight champions “Sugar Ray” Leonard and Thomas Hearns squared off for record amounts of money.

In the 13th round, Leonard knocked down the unbeaten Hearns, and in the 14th round stopped him completely, ending the match. Leonard made $11 million for the win, and Hearns made $5 million for the loss.

Muhammad Ali came out of retirement for one final bout against Trevor Berbick, at age 39 years. Ali was knocked down again, same as the year before, and went into retirement, this time permanently.

Trevor Berbick was defeated by Larry Holmes in the bid for the heavyweight title. Holmes held his title away from all other attempts at capture, and ended the year as world heavyweight champion.

Joe Louis, the long-time reigning heavyweight champion, died of cardiac arrest in Paradise, Nevada, at age 66.


Clemson took the NCAA football title, despite a pre-season prediction of the Michigan Wolverines. In fact, they only captured first place in the final 5 games. Michigan lost in the first week, and ended the season at #12.

#10 Washington simply overpowered #18 Iowa in the Rose Bowl, 28-0.

In a seemingly evenly matched bowl game, #2 Texas defeated #7 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, 14-12.

#3 Penn State beat out #14 Southern California in the Fiesta Bowl, 26-10.

#1 Clemson overcame #11 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, 22-15.

In the Sugar Bowl, #4 Pittsburgh subdued #6 Georgia, 24-20.

The Peach Bowl featured a 26-6 rout by #17 West Virginia over unranked Florida.

In the Bluebonnet Bowl, the (pre-season #1) #12 Michigan Wolverines vanquished unranked UCLA, in a stunning 33-14 game.

The Liberty Bowl saw a close win by Ohio State over unranked Navy, 31-28.

#9 North Carolina faced unranked Arkansas in the Gator Bowl. The Tar Heels prevailed, 31-27.

The Heisman Award was captured by tailback Marcus Allen of Southern California.


In an exciting finish to the year, Super Bowl XVI was a faceoff between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

In spite of the fact that the Bengals scored three touchdowns in the second half, the 49ers won, due to their superior first half performance.

For the first time in Super Bowl history, the team with more touchdowns (3) and yards (356) lost. Another record was the 49ers spectacular 20-0 lead at halftime. The 49ers scored two field goals in the 4th quarter, however, and the game was theirs.

Inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame were: Jim Ringo, Willie Davis, George Blanda, and Red Badgro.

Future Hall of Fame rookies included: Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor, Howie Long, Ronnie Lott, Russ Grimm, and Rickey Jackson.

Claude Humphrey, Alan Page, Joe Greene, Jim Langer, Gene Upshaw, and Curley Culp ended their careers in 1981.


Sports in 1986

The use of illegal drugs continued to have a big impact on sports in 1986. The problem was dramatized by the cocaine-related deaths in June, eight days apart, of college basketball star Len Bias and football standout Don Rogers.

Pro Baseball

The New York Mets capped a superb 1986 season by defeating the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series. The 1986 playoffs were rife with suspense and drama.

The Astros were another strong team that year, riding on the arms of Cy Young award winner Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan.

In the American League, Don Mattingly finished the season first in hits (238), doubles (53), slugging percentage (.573); second in batting (.352) and third in runs scored (117) and RBI (113). Red Sox 3B Wade Boggs had a .357 batting average to win his third crown in four years.

In the NL, Mike Schmidt of the Phillies led in HR (37), RBI (119), and slugging (.547) and was named the league MVP.

Pro Basketball

The two best records in 1986 belonged to the Boston Celtics (67-15) and the Los Angeles Lakers (62-20). Both teams won their divisions in easy fashion.

The Houston Rockets upset the Lakers in the Western Conference Playoffs, while the Celtics cruised through, losing only one game in the entire Eastern Conference Playoffs.

The Celtics beat the Rockets, 4 games to 2, winning their 16th NBA championship in 30 years.

Larry Bird was the MVP of the regular season and the Playoffs. The 1985 all-star team consisted of Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas.

Patrick Ewing was voted Rookie of the Year.

College Basketball

The two top ranked teams at the beginning of the 1986 season were Georgia Tech and Michigan. By the time the season had ended, Duke was 32-2 and ranked #1.

The top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament were: Duke, Kansas, St. John’s and Kentucky. Only two of those teams would make it to the Final Four.

Duke and Kansas were joined by LSU and Louisville in the 1986 Final Four. The March 31 final in Dallas between Louisville and Duke was a very close game. But in the end, Louisville prevailed, sealed by freshman Pervis Ellison’s heroic game.

Walter Berry of St. John’s was chosen as College Player of the Year. Other top players in 1986 were Len Bias, Kenny Walker, David Robinson, Johnny Dawkins, Scott Skiles and Steve Alford.


The boxing world was more focused on fights that were approaching in 1987 then fights that had taken place in 1986. Soon, Marvin Hagler, who has held the middleweight title since 1980, would be fighting Sugar Ray Leonard, who was coming out of retirement to fight Hagler.

The heavyweight division was a mess in terms of deciding a champion. There were three major governing bodies at the time and they didn’t agree on one champion.

Don King and HBO worked out a series of fights that would determine a champion. In the first fight, Trevor Berbick outpointed Pinklon Thomas. In the second fight, Michael Spinks beat Larry Holmes and Steffen Tangstad. Tim Witherspoon stopped Frank Bruno but then lost to James Smith. In December, Berbick lost the title to a young, up-and-comer named Mike Tyson. At 20 years old, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion of all time.

Pro Football

The Chicago Bears, winners of the 1985 Super Bowl, continued winning despite losing Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan and QB Jim McMahon, who got hurt just six games into the season.

The NFC Division winners were New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The AFC Division winners were Cleveland, Denver and New England.

For Browns and Broncos fans, 1986 is remembered as the year of “The Drive.” John Elway famously led his team 98 yards for a game tying touchdown that Denver eventually ended up winning and advancing to the Super Bowl.

It was all for nothing, however, as the Giants destroyed the Broncos in the Super Bowl, 39-20.

The NFL introduced instant replay on an experimental basis in 1986. Commissioner Pete Rozelle also announced a drug-testing program that called for three tests a year and a lifetime “three strikes and you’re out” ban.

College Football

When the regular season ended, the best records in college football belonged to Miami (Fla.), Penn State, Michigan and Oklahoma. Miami was ranked #1 and Penn State finished #2.

The Fiesta Bowl succeeded in arranging a #1 vs. #2 bowl game, to be held on January 2.

Miami was led by Heisman Trophy-winning QB Vinny Testeverde. He was intercepted five times as Penn State fought their way to a 14-10 victory and a national championship.

All-Americans in 1986 included Keith Jackson, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Brent Fullwood, Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, Jerome Brown, Brian Bosworth, Bennie Blades, Danny Noonan, Rod Woodson and Jason Buck.


1980s Major Sports Champions

Pro BaseballPhiladelphia Phillies
Pro BasketballLos Angeles Lakers
College BasketballLouisville
Boxing (HW)Mike Weaver
Pro FootballOakland Raiders
College FootballGeorgia
Pro BaseballLos Angeles Dodgers
Pro BasketballBoston Celtics
College BasketballIndiana
Boxing (HW)Mike Weaver
Pro FootballSan Francisco 49ers
College FootballClemson
Pro BaseballSt. Louis Cardinals
Pro BasketballLos Angeles Lakers
College BasketballNorth Carolina
Boxing (HW)Michael Dokes
Pro FootballWashington Redskins
College FootballPenn State
Pro BaseballBaltimore Orioles
Pro BasketballPhiladelphia 76ers
College BasketballNorth Carolina State
Boxing (HW)Gerrie Coetzee
Pro FootballLos Angeles Raiders
College FootballMiami (Fla.)
Pro BaseballDetroit Tigers
Pro BasketballBoston Celtics
College BasketballGeorgetown
Boxing (HW)Larry Holmes
Pro FootballSan Francisco 49ers
College FootballBrigham Young
Pro BaseballKansas City Royals
Pro BasketballLos Angeles Lakers
College BasketballVillanova
Boxing (HW)Tony Tubbs
Pro FootballChicago Bears
College FootballOklahoma
Pro BaseballNew York Mets
Pro BasketballBoston Celtics
College BasketballLouisville
Boxing (HW)Tim Witherspoon
Pro FootballNew York Giants
College FootballPenn State
Pro BaseballMinnesota Twins
Pro BasketballLos Angeles Lakers
College BasketballIndiana
Boxing (HW)Mike Tyson
Pro FootballWashington Redskins
College FootballMiami (Fla.)
Pro BaseballLos Angeles Dodgers
Pro BasketballLos Angeles Lakers
College BasketballKansas
Boxing (HW)Mike Tyson
Pro FootballSan Francisco 49ers
College FootballNotre Dame
Pro BaseballOakland Athletics
Pro BasketballDetroit Pistons
College BasketballMichigan
Boxing (HW)Mike Tyson
Pro FootballSan Francisco 49ers
College FootballMiami (Fla.)

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