The unabashed gladiatorialism of the game combined with the rise of the passing game made the 1980s a period of unprecedented growth in popularity. I don't have any numbers to back me up here, but I would say that the 1980s is the decade when football first started to catch baseball as the nation's most popular sport. The post-merger, Super Bowl-era 1970s really got the the oval ball rolling, but in the 80s, Air Coryell and the West Coast Offense got it flying.
I recently completed a trade with Trading Card Database user 860502 and I got a fix of the 1980s as part of the deal.
All of these cards came from 1983 except for the surprisingly shiny Nolan Cromwell sticker, which is a 1982. I was surprised to see the sheen on a sticker this old. A trio of Packers and a couple of all-decade defenders are showcased here. Dan Hampton went on to dominate the decade, but he looks quite young on the card.
Players like these all-time greats are in large part responsible for some of the aerial attacks that helped make the modern game what it is today. Both Largent and Monk retired as the NFL's all-time leading receiver--Largent after the 1989 season and Monk after 1994.
Offense may have been on the rise in the 80s, but great defenses still existed in the decade. No player was more feared than the original LT, who was an utter monster with his combination of size and speed. Ronnie Lott is a prime example of the toughness bordering on insanity that characterized the game. In 1986, Lott had his pinkie amputated just above the first knuckle in order to avoid the longer recovery time of the broken bone healing.
One of the other great things of the NFL in the 80s was the proliferation of nicknames. Great defenses include the Dolphins' Killer Bs, the Jets' New York Sack Exchange, the Bears' Monsters of the Midway, and the Giants' Big Blue Wrecking Crew. But perhaps the most famous nickname is one that has evolved to include anybody who plays in a position group--the Redskins' revered "Hogs" offensive line. Joe Jacoby was one of the original Hogs, but Webster, Hannah, and Munoz would have arguably been better than any individual in that group.
As the 80s drew to a close, the 90s started a transition from great defense and innovative offense to a flashy game of finesse. Deion and Rod Woodson may have been defenders, but they brought the flash and speed that characterizes the 90s to me. All of these cards are rookie cards, by the way.
As the game moved from toughness to finesse, we saw flashier cards come into play as well. Gloss and gold foil was the name of the game in the 90s.
I may be breaking with my theme here, but these 1991 Pro Set Platinum cards came to me in the trade. I think they're beautiful cards. The full-bleed photo on the front is exquisite on almost every card I've seen from this set. I have to show the backs here too, though, because this is the rare set in which the back photography is as good as the front. The biggest downsides to the set, however, are the lack of a player name on the front (another reason to show the back) and the omission of player stats. I've probably said this before, but the more I see these cards, the more I think I'm going for the set. I didn't appreciate or even like these cards when I was a kid, but I think they are something special now.
The final cards coming from 860502 fit along with the 90s. As much as I appreciate the splendid balance of ground and pound, increasing aerial attacks, and stout defenses of the 80s, I didn't really begin to understand the game until the 90s, and it was then that I became a Packers fan. Knowing myself, I probably would have opted for more prolific running game to be featured by my team of choice had I been born a few years earlier. I don't think I've ever explained on this blog how I became a Packers fan, but that is a story for another day. Truth be told, if I had been about 5 years older, I think I would have been a Bears fan. I mean Walter Payton, the Monsters of the Midway, and Jim McMahon would probably have appealed to, and might have actually paralleled the way I started rooting for Green Bay. Yes, I'll have to make a mental note to write a post about the inception of my fandom as a kid.
There were some great throwback cards in this trade. It was a nice venture into the simpler days of the NFL, before we had to worry about so many inherent dangers of the game, when the NFL was gaining popularity, and not just sitting on top of the hill. Very possibly the NFL's glory days.