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G.O.A.T, the '80s: 50-41

I often use the Super Bowl as an example of my fading memory.

Like many people my age, it's much easier for us to remember who was in the Super Bowl in 1985 than it is to remember who played in the Super Bowl last year.

So last week, when I was in a meeting at work with a guy who is my own age and a woman who is in her 20s but only a casual sports fan, neither me nor the other guy could answer right away when the woman asked suddenly, "who won last year's Super Bowl?"

I stammered for a few moments trying to produce the answer, knowing it was pretty damn obvious, while the other guy said what I've always said, "I don't remember who won the Super Bowl six months after it happens."

The woman -- as people her age often do -- immediately tapped away on her keyboard to find the answer and announced, "Kansas City" and both of us over-50 guys, if we were cartoon characters, would've slapped our foreheads in shameful realization. Of course! The Chiefs! Those guys who are playing in a few days!

Hey, don't blame me. It's the NFL's fault for putting Tom Brady teams in the Super Bowl every year for the past 20 years. That's when I stopped cataloguing Super Bowl winners in my brain. Who cares if you're going to keep putting Brady in these things.

My favorite Super Bowl memories start around the late 1970s and last to the late 1990s. That's when I can produce who won each year. And, of course, all of the '80s are contained in that period.

So I thought I'd rank the '80s Super Bowls in terms of my favorite here quickly before getting into the latest edition of the countdown.

1. 1989: 49ers over the Bengals: Started out with "these two teams again?", turned into one of the more interesting games that I had watched to that point. Also watched it with some of my most favorite people ever.

2. 1982: 49ers over Bengals: The first time. At that moment, this was such a weird combination of teams. Very un-Super Bowl-like. How were we to know the 49ers would become an SB dynasty?

3. 1983: Redskins over Dolphins: My first time vigorously rooting against the Dolphins. The Redskins were so lovable then. And this new show, "The A-Team" was going to debut after the game!

4. 1986: Bears over Patriots: Lousy game. But the Bears were the most memorable team of the '80s.

5. 1981: Raiders over Eagles: This was the Jim Plunkett game. It was probably the first time I watched all of the hours and hours of Super Bowl coverage.

6. 1985: 49ers over Dolphins: Good game. Right team won. Always enjoyed seeing Dan Marino sad. The solidification of the greatness of the Bill Walsh era.

7. 1987: Giants over Broncos: Team I wanted to win didn't win but there were a lot of fireworks.

8. 1984: Raiders over Redskins: The Marcus Allen game. I was pretty bored by this matchup and game. Probably one of the Super Bowls I watched the least.

9. 1988: Redskins over Broncos: This is when the Broncos and the Super Bowl became a running joke. I read more than a few people angry because last night's game wasn't competitive. Hello, youngsters, this used to happen ALL THE TIME in the Super Bowl.

10. 1990: 49ers over Broncos: Another Broncos blow out. Don't remember anything about this. 

But I do know who won each year. And for every year of the '90s and '70s, too. Don't ask me for anything after 2000.

All right that's enough football. Football's over. Time for baseball. And '80s cards 50-41.

50. Eddie Murray, 1981 Topps, #490

Players like Andre Dawson and Carl Yastrzemski have proven through this countdown that they have among the best cards of the 1980s, but we're now halfway through the countdown and we're just getting to the first Eddie Murray card on this list.
That's right, the first. There will be others.
Murray's 1981 Topps card is best viewed just as it is now, enlarged, back-lit, so you can appreciate everything that is happening here.

Murray and his Orioles teammates are obviously lounging in the dugout. Something or someone in the crowd has caught Steady Eddie's eye and he's joined a couple fellow Orioles in propping his hand on the dugout roof, creating the effect of a three-armed player emerging from the dugout depths.

Behind Murray is catcher Dan Graham, as well as a phone cord that goes to a phone that possibly the person behind Murray is holding. And, best of all, is a fantastic water cooler, one that angry ballplayers were always bashing with their bats. I'll bet that cooler didn't make it through the 1980 season.

49. Bip Roberts, 1989 Topps Traded, #103T

Bip Roberts became legend in the baseball card blogging community about a decade ago. The legend evolved from a term that meant pulling multiple copies of the same card in one pack to the name of a prank in which someone sends multiple copies of the same card to one person, thereby being "bipped."

It's a little unclear where the fascination with Bip Roberts came from, but I think part of it might be because Roberts always had interesting cards during his career.

He established that as he returned to major league baseball cards in 1989 after a year away. His smile on this '89 Traded card is among the widest and most joyful of any card ever created, certainly to that point.

Roberts clearly is on on the joke that would feature his name years after this card came out.

48. Phillies Win First World Series (Tug McGraw), 1981 Topps, #404

Perhaps this card would have never made the list if it didn't mark the last time that Topps would recognize the World Series in its flagship set for the rest of the decade.

Topps declining to issue cards that commemorated the previous year's World Series, as it had done for two decades prior, is one of the biggest drawbacks of 1980s cards. It's almost unforgivable when you consider that there is no recap of one of the most famous World Series in history -- the 1986 Series -- in the 1987 Topps set. Throw in Topps ignoring chances to show Kirk Gibson's home run, the Twins' dramatic win in '87 and many others, and Topps deserved to be scrapping for its life amid competition from Donruss, Fleer, Score and Upper Deck that decade.

As the years have gone by, this card of a joyful Tug McGraw has grown in stature. McGraw was one of the most vocal figures in the 1980 Series and the card well-represents the Phillies' first title and that Series.

Too bad we can't say the same for the rest of the decade.

47. Best Hitters (George Brett and Rod Carew), 1981 Donruss, #537

I remember pulling this card from a pack of Donruss in 1981 and thinking "what a strange card."

I wasn't used to randomly themed cards, without any other cards also tied into the theme. I had grown up on Topps the previous six years and it was all I knew.

I'm sure I didn't realize that the unnamed George Brett and Rod Carew seem to be pasted together, lifted from different ballparks and/or different days. But it probably contributed to the overall weirdness I felt when first viewing this card.

But I also knew I loved that card.

It was so different, for someone who didn't know the combo cards of the '50s and '60s yet, and it contained so much star power. George Brett and Rod Carew were the two greatest hitters of their time at that moment. They both challenged the .400 batting average standard around that time -- Brett in 1980 and Carew in 1977. And there was probably no bigger stat in baseball at that time than batting average. OK, maybe home runs and strikeouts meant more, but those statistical categories have held up in stature while batting average has not.

Soon afterward, Fleer would pose players together and call them "Super Star Specials" and Score and Upper Deck would get into the act and then even Topps would do so, too -- also doing that weird thing of placing two players together who weren't actually in the same place.

But Donruss did it first. The first year it existed.

46. Jose Canseco, 1988 Topps, #370

I am not one of the many who grew up in the '80s who thinks Jose Canseco's greatest cards are the 1986 Donruss Rated Rookie card or the 1987 Topps rookie cup card.

I will not be swayed by logos. Card greatness comes from the picture. And in 1988, finally, Topps appropriately and accurately conveyed Canseco's power and confidence.

This is Canseco at his '80s best, no cheesy mustache, no smirky smirk. Sure, it may cost way less than the '86 Donruss card, but this countdown doesn't think much about price. This is about the whole package. And if you want something that summed up Canseco in the late '80s, I challenge you to find a better card.

Here is Canseco, bat on powerful shoulder, glance focused on where he will deposit the ball. And so much green.

I implore you to give 1988 Topps another chance.

45. Dave Parker, 1981 Topps, #640

We are in the midst of a trilogy of power with this card.

Dave Parker has his share of phenomenal baseball cards, although many of them show up in the 1970s. But I will match this card up with any of those others.

The Pirates had the good fortune in 1981 to appear on a Topps design that represented the Pittsburghers well. While other teams in the set were stuck with terribly inappropriate colors (green borders for the Reds, orange borders for the Royals), the Pirates received their team colors. What a concept. And, as an added bonus, Topps altered the shape of the position-team cap so it resembled the Pirates' unique pillbox caps

If Topps, with this design choice, was offering an olive branch to the Pirates for failing to recognize the team's 1979 World Series title in the 1980 Topps set, I can certainly see it.

Now, let's get to Parker. He is wearing probably the most pleasing of the many Pittsburgh uniform combos at the time, the black jersey and the gold pants. He is breaking from the box, no doubt after launch a scorching double toward the wall, and he could not look more powerful. But just in case you need more evidence, there is the green All-Star banner at the top. (Imagine if that banner was black, this card might surge to the top of the countdown).

44. Eric Davis, 1988 Topps, #150

I mentioned in a previous edition of the '80s countdown about how the 1988 Topps set features the effect of players breaking through the design. This is one of the most pleasing aspects of the design for me, and I'm so happy that Topps and card design has come back to this phenomenon in the last couple years.

The most powerful hitters in the game are showcased the best in this design and Eric Davis is the perfect example.

Davis was one of the brightest young stars of the time with his 1987 season. Davis set career highs with 37 home runs and 100 RBIs, along with a .293 batting average, that season.

You can see all of that in the swing on this card. What a magnificent swing. You can see the focus. You can see the devastation. The pitcher must be crying.

43. Ozzie Smith, 1982 Topps Traded, #109T

I know there are plenty of younger folks who know Ozzie Smith only as a St. Louis Cardinal. But I remember those cards of Smith as a San Diego Padre. And since I do remember, this card is significant.

This card is Smith's first with the Cardinals and captures the moment in cardboard form when his career changed from fine fielder with a .231 career batting average to a World Series champion, Hall of Famer and a reputation as the "Wizard of Oz," the greatest fielder perhaps of all-time.

Add that this card was tucked away in a traded set, one that you could only obtain if you could convince your mom and dad to pay the $16.95 or whatever to send away for it, and it's not something that you can just find in your average pack of cards.

(For the record, I had to use my own newspaper carrier money to buy the '82 Topps Traded set).

42. Jim Kaat, 1983 Fleer, #11

Speaking of a card being on the cusp of history, there is this item that features ESPN as the scrappy upstart that it was in the early 1980s (dig that old-school ESPN logo).

This card isn't the first to show a player speaking to a broadcaster on a card. There is the above-mentioned Dave Parker on a card one year earlier. But it is the first baseball card to show that player speaking to ESPN, which would later become must-see viewing in the 1980s and 1990s and then wither to what it's become these days, i.e., something I never watch.

This card is also charming because it shows Kaat during his final year in the majors after 20 years in the big leagues. And how appropriate is it that Kaat would become a well-known (and talented) television broadcaster, who would later work for ESPN himself?

41. Pete Rose, 1984 Fleer Update, #U102

I have most of the cards that are on this countdown (they have a better chance of making the countdown if I have them -- that's how I get to know them so well).

But this is one of a handful that I don't have.

This card is from the elusive and rather expensive 1984 Fleer Update set. I would like to own all of the major sets of the 1980s but if I ever do land this one, it's sure to be the last one I get. It's just too pricey.

Too bad, because it contains the first card of Pete Rose in an Expos uniform (along with the '84 Topps Traded card).

There aren't a lot of those cards. Out of the uniforms that Rose wore, the percentage of Rose Expos cards is very small. It's a novelty. And that's why the card is so great.

It was flat-out weird to hear that Rose signed with Montreal as a free agent in 1984. And every one of the 95 games he played for the Expos was weird. He didn't even last the whole year with the team, returning to the Reds late in the year. And that was just as well because all that Expos stuff was just a dream, right?


Like many baseball fans, I consider the end of the Super Bowl as the start of the countdown for the next baseball season.

I am hoping for a full baseball season with limited interruptions. It's likely to be different from what I am used to but I am hoping it will be improved from what I saw last year.

And, if the Dodgers win the World Series again, I'm sure I will be like a lot of Tampa Bay Bucs fans, who were among the very few rooting for Brady and the Bucs to win.

That's OK. I can handle all that jealousy and hate. At least I'll always remember who won the World Series these years.
Oh, and just remember, send all those despised Dodger cards to me.


John Bateman said…
The 88 Canseco and 82 Ozzie Smith are both surprise picks. I disagree about Canseco and say that 1987 card that we have seen so many time is it. Smith's card looks kind of boring. Parker card does stand out in all of its yellow, and green and old fashion hat.
Chris said…
Super Bowls are tricky for me to remember because they're numbered and take place in a different calendar year from the season. I know the Giants won XXV because it was the first one I watched. Haven't forgotten who won the previous year's game (yet) but don't ask me who won any specific Super Bowls in between - because I'll just assume it was Tom Brady.

As for the countdown, the only two I have from this post (other than the '88 Topps) are the McGraw and Kaat. I picked out the McGraw for my All-Time Teams collection not knowing it was the only WS card Topps produced in the '80s. Ridiculous. Can't recall how I acquired the Kaat but I saved it for quite a long time because of that ESPN mic. Until reading this post I had no idea it was the first such appearance on a card.

Also, I wont be mad if the Dodgers win the WS in '21 - but they just got a lot less likeable :/
Nick Vossbrink said…
A few great 1981s in there. I love the changing the cap to a crown on the Tug McGraw as well. And while the Orioles don't e team colors, the blue contrasts beautifully with the caps.
Great posts; the caps in the 1981 set make it so great for me, and the attention to detail with bringing in the Pirates pillbox cap...well, I wish they were as conscientious now.
Bulldog said…
At the beginning of the 80s who woulda thunk the Bengals and 49ers would give us the best Super Bowls of the decade. And the beginning of a San Francisco dynasty. Really fun looking back at the Super Bowls.

The Tug McGraw is my favorite of the cards. Actual moments from World Series are fun and that photo was perfect. The Dave Parker and his great Pirate uni, the Eric Davis and Brett and Carew cards are cards I really like too. Great post.
Sweet 10 cards, they are definitely getting pretty amazing as we get lower and lower!. I love the Brett/Carew card, it is one that I keep every copy of I get. And the Rose Update is a classic too!
Nick said…
'83 Fleer Kaat is easily one of my personal favorites from the '80s -- only better "interview" card I can think of off the top of my head is the '84 Fleer Johnny Bench. Glad Expos Pete snuck into the countdown as well! Still one of the strangest sights to ever appear on cardboard.
The Brett/Carew card and the Kaat are my faves here.
cardboardhogs said…
fun fact for your #9 Super Bowl, The Wonder Years debuted right after the game...still have it on VHS too.
Old Cards said…
I have so many 88 Topps that I haven't put them in binders and I rarely look at them. However, now that you point it out, the Canseco card looks pretty good. As far as Tom Brady, it is hard to argue with success.
bbcardz said…
Gotta love '88 Topps. So much of the card's real estate was dedicated to the player photo. Out of all the Topps flagship designs with borders, I'd bet the '88 Topps design is in the top three in most spaced dedicated to the photo.
POISON75 said…
I'm sure that knowing too much about baseball that most people overlooked again. For examples #44 Eric Davis wore #44 for the Reds then is #41 is the birth year for Pete Rose as well his uniform Jersey # reversed also throw in the original Mr. 40/40 Jose Canseco making an appearance in the 40s as well the card is from the same year he accomplished the feat in. Just another reason why baseball is a funny game. Now as for the Super Bowl Games in 1982 we saw Cincinnati lose to Joe Montana and the 49ers fast forward to 1989 Joe leads again beats the Bengals funny thing Cris Collinsworth was on both of those teams Joe beat.
POISON75 said…
Oh 1 more thing Ozzie Smith card as a Cardinal coming in the same year as the Cardinals winning their own World Series in the decade.
gregory said…
Wow, The A-Team debuted right after the Super Bowl in 1983? That's pretty cool. Redskins fans who watched the show after their team won the big game must have never gotten to sleep that night from all the excitement.

As for this round of cards, I think the '88 Canseco is my favorite. Great observations on that one, Night Owl!
I have. And I'm giving 88 Score another chance too.
Fuji said…
Thanks for pointing out the ESPN rookie card and the pillbox hats on the 81T design. Great stuff. And I'm with you about the 84FU set. If I ever own it, it'll be the last 80's set I get.

P.S. Great song. I'm a big fan of Howard Jones.
Matt said…
I find it amusing that the only part of Jose Canseco that "breaks through" the 1988 design is his head.
bryan was here said…
I've been really enjoying this countdown. The '81 set was the first one I really started collecting seriously so seeing all these '81 Topps cards brings back some memories!

I'm also glad that you like the '88 Topps set as well. That is probably my favourite set of the '80s, with '85 Donruss second and '89 Upper Deck third.
bryan was here said…
Oh, and there's a whoops: Bip Roberts actually debuted on cards in 1986, both Topps and Fleer update sets as well as Donruss Rookies.
night owl said…
Fixed. Card companies faking me out by issuing no cards of Roberts in 1988. It was so much easier to track that stuff in the '70s.
gogosox60 said…
We kissed the World Series cards goodbye in the 80's as competition of other sets on the market forced Topps to crank up the printing presses in September to get the cards in wax packs and in to collectors hands by Thanksgiving.

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