The San Francisco 49ers
were the dominant team of the 1980s, as quarterback Joe Montana keyed
the team to four Super Bowl victories (1982, 1985, 1989, 1990). Montana,
who benefited from good blocking protection, read defenses well and
could pass while scrambling away from tacklers. His favorite receiver
was Jerry Rice, who eventually became the NFL career leader in career
touchdowns. Other powerful teams during the 1980s included the Chicago
Bears, the Washington Redskins, and the Raiders, who moved from Oakland
to Los Angeles after the 1981 season, and back to Oakland after the 1994
In the mid-1980s a new type of defensive player emerged. While speedy
defensive backs covered equally fast wide receivers, a player called the
rush-linebacker emerged with one specialized duty: pressuring the
quarterback. With no pass-coverage responsibilities, the fast and strong
rush-linebacker focused his attention on the quarterback and the running
backs. The New York Giantsí Lawrence Taylor, perhaps the best player of
all time at this position, led New York to a Super Bowl victory in 1987.
The late 1980s saw players pushing to improve their labor situation. In
1989 the threat of a lawsuit caused the NFL to change its original
policy and allow college underclassmen to enter the draft. Juniors and
third-year sophomores are now eligible, and many college stars turn
professional before exhausting their college eligibility.
Free agency emerged in 1992 in a settlement of a lawsuit filed in 1987
by the NFL Players Association. The association was formed in 1956 when
players began to demand improved conditions. The union brought the suit
in 1987 on behalf of players seeking freedom of movement between teams.
The NFLís Management Council initially objected to any form of free
agency, so in 1987 veteran players held a three-game strike in protest.
Now in place, free agency is accompanied by a salary cap that limits
teams to a maximum annual player payroll.