Like every postseason before and since, the 1980 NFL playoffs were full of drama and suspense, sure things and surprises.

But before even one of the teams could punch their ticket into the NFL’s second season, each one had to overcome 16 games of slings and arrows to emerge as one of the game’s ten best.

And behind every great team is a great player … or two or three or ten.

But how do you measure who was the best in each case?

super bowl xv program 1980 1981 philadelphia eagles oakland raiders

Sometimes it’s clear, but a lot of times, it can be pretty subjective. If you like new-age stats, though, or even if you like a good football argument, you could do worse than Approximate Value, or AV, from Pro Football Reference.

It’s their attempt to reduce every player’s performance each season to a single number so we can see who was best.

Is it perfect?

Heck no! But it’s an interesting conversation starter, and it trends in the right direction.

It’s also the basis of this list of ten football cards — the man (or men) who led each team in AV and helped build their successful 1980s seasons.

You won’t agree with all of these choices, and I’ve broken out of my own AV box a couple of times, but it’s all in fun, right?


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1980 Topps Lester Hayes Rookie Card (#195)

1980 Topps Lester Hayes Rookie Card

The Oakland Raiders finished second in the AFC West to the San Diego Chargers, though both teams checked in at 11-5.

In the Wild Card round, the Raiders blew past the Oilers, 27-7, before squeaking past the Browns, 14-12, in the Divisional round.

That set up a rubber match with the Chargers, against whom Oakland had split the season series.

In the AFC Championship game, the Raiders withstood a late onslaught to win, 34-27.

Jim Plunkett was the star of the game for the Raiders, but their seasonal AV leader, cornerback Lester Hayes, picked off a pass.

On the season, Plunkett started just 11 of 16 games, while Hayes started all 16 and led the NFL with 13 picks for 273 yards.

Plunkett was the MVP of Super Bowl XV against the Eagles, too, as the Raiders won 27-10. On defense, Rod Martin picked off Ron Jaworski three times.

Still, it’s tough to pick against Hayes and his 1980 Topps rookie card in this slot.

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1980 Topps Ken Stabler (#65)

1980 Topps Ken Stabler

Stabler won his own ring with the Raiders back in 1976, but he found himself on the other sideline in the 1980 Divisional round.

In his first year with the Houston Oilers, Stabler started all 16 games and led his new team into the playoffs with an 11-5 record.

Truth be told, running back Earl Campbell was the star of the Oilers, but he had only one football card during his entire career — his 1979 Topps rookie.

Given that and the fact that they’re both Hall of Famers, Snake gets the nod here.

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1980 Topps Danny White (#152)

1980 Topps Danny White

It’s tough to step into the breach when a legend walks away, but White took on starting quarterback duties in 1980 and led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and a Wild Card berth.

Of course, he had spent plenty of time learning as Roger Staubach‘s backup, and he had lots of help, including guard Herbert Scott, the teams AV leader at 18.

White was close enough in his starting debut, at 16, to nab this slot, though the team was loaded with stars — Tony Dorsett, Tony Hill, Drew Pearson, Too Tall Jones, and on and on

The ‘Boys beat the Rams and the Falcons in the first two rounds before dropping their tie-breaker match in the NFC Championship game to the Eagles.

Still, White’s 1980 Topps card was and is a Dallas classic.

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1980 Topps Vince Ferragamo and Kent Hill (#493)

1980 Topps Vince Ferragamo and Kent Hill

The 1980 Rams were a fun team to watch, and one saddled with high expectations.

Streaking into the Super Bowl the year before will do that sort of thing.

In 1980, the Rams were better than the 1979 version that went 9-7 and came within a Steel Curtain of winning the whole shebang, though.

In fact, L.A. sported the third-best offense and seventh-best defense in terms of points scored/allowed. That’s a recipe for success that led to an 11-5 record an a second-place finish in the NFC West.

Even though the Rams scored a lot, their tools players put up modest numbers — Cullen Bryant led the ground attack with 807 yards rushing, and Billy Waddy was the top receiver with 670 yards.

So, how did the Rams score so much?

What happened (well one of “what happened”) was that QB Vince Ferragamo was really good at finding routes to the end zone, with 7.4% of his passes ending in a TD … tops in the NFL.

One of Ferragamo’s chief assets in staying upright and having the time to figure stuff out was left guard Kent Hill, who led the team in AV (13).

It’s fitting, then, that Ferragamo and Hill appear together on card #493 in the 1980 Topps set, shown taking care of business in their 7-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1979 NFC title game.

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1980 Topps Dan Fouts (#520)

1980 Topps Dan Fouts

Don Coryell arrived in San Diego partway through the 1978 season, and by 1980, the “Air Coryell” offense was popping on all cylinders.

As you might imagine from that name, the whole thing was predicated on a stellar passing game, which fit right into Dan Fouts’ wheelhouse.

Fouts had bounced around as a second-string QB and sometimes starter for the first five years of his NFL career, but he took to Coryell’s high-flying ways right away.

By 1980, Fouts was a superstar who led his team to the AFC Championship game on the strength of 4700+ passing yards for 30 touchdowns.

Of course, Fouts had to throw the ball to someone, and he was fortunate to have three 1000-yard receivers at his disposal in John Jefferson, Kellen Winslow at tight end, and Charlie Joiner.

Didn’t hurt to have Chuck Muncie and Mike Thomas combining for 1000+ yards on the ground, either.

Still, Fouts was the face of the offense, and its most valuable member (by AV), and his 1980 Topps card is the star here.

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1981 Topps Joe Cribbs Rookie Card (#360)

1981 Topps Joe Cribbs Rookie Card

So, Joe Cribbs didn’t have a 1980 Topps card since he was a rookie that season, and Topps wasn’t into Draft Pick cards back then.

But the young running back put up 1185 yards on 306 carries and also added 415 yards receiving.

He also was the AV leader for a team that pulled off an AFC East title before losing to the Chargers in the Divisional round.

Cribbs went on to record two more 1000-yard seasons in Buffalo before winding up his career at age 30 after stops with the San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, and Miami Dolphins.

His RC falls in the wrong year (1981) for this list, but it’s a fitting celebration of his breakout season.

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1980 Topps Charlie Johnson (#277)

1980 Topps Charlie Johnson

It took head coach Dick Vermeil a few years to turn around the moribund Eagles, but he had them clicking by 1980.

That season, they won the NFC East title on their way to the Super Bowl, crafting a lopsided 12-4 record.

And, while the offense was top-six material thanks the QB Jaworski, running back Wilbert Montgomery, and wide receivers Charlie Smith and Harold Carmichael, it was a stingy defense that really made the difference for Philly.

Sitting right at the apex of that unit was nose tackle Charlie Johnson, who led the entire team in AV.

And, even though Johnson had been in the league for a few years by then, his 1980 Topps issue was his rookie card.

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1980 Topps Tommy Kramer Rookie Card (#138)

1980 Topps Tommy Kramer Rookie Card

The 1980 Minnesota Vikings fashioned a milquetoast 9-7 record in winning the NFC Central division title, then lost in the Divisional round to the Eagles.

There were probably plenty of fans happy to see them exit early, as the Vikes had lost four Super Bowls in the 1970s … sort of a Bills of their time, albeit with some years off in between their Big Game appearances.

Unlike those heady years when their Purple People Eaters defense was among the best in the biz, the 1980 was built on middle-of-the-road units across the board.

Still, even though QB Tommy Kramer threw more interceptions than TDs, he kept them rolling along week after week, starting all but one game.

He’s a bit roughed up on his 1980 Topps rookie card, and that makes it all the more fitting for this slot.

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1980 Topps Brian Sipe (#171)

1980 Topps Brian Sipe

Despite their lingering reputation as an impotent franchise, the Cleveland Browns of the late 1970s actually weren’t that bad.

After sinking to 3-11 in 1975, they reeled off four straight non-losing seasons and entered 1980 with a chance to make some noise in the old AFC Central division.

And make some noise they did, posting an 11-5 record to win their first division title in nine years.

Quarterback Brian Sipe had already been in the league for six seasons before 1980, but he had only been Cleveland’s starter since 1978. In that 1980 season, though, Sipe passed for 4000+ yards and connected on 30 TDs against only 14 interceptions.

With Mike Pruitt in the backfield and Dave Logan heading up the receivers, plus a top-half defense, the Browns looked poised to do some damage in January.

Alas, they lost a defensive slugfest against the Raiders in the opening round of the playoffs, 14-12.

Sipe played his part — and then some — in the loss by throwing three picks and taking a couple of sacks.

Still and all, he was the leader of the team, and they ultimately sank or swam with him.

Sipe’s 1980 Topps football card is still a classic, though, and he still holds plenty of Cleveland’s all-time passing marks.

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1980 Topps William Andrews Rookie Card (#73)

1980 Topps William Andrews Rookie Card

William Andrews was the 79th overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, but he pushed his way into featured-back status with Atlanta Falcons that fall.

By 1980, he had a 1000-yard season under his belt, and he followed that up with 1308 more in his sophomore season.

Things got even better in 1981 for Andrews, when he led the NFL with 2036 yards from scrimmage … but not before he helped Atlanta to a 12-4 record and the NFC West Division title in 1980.

That the Falcons fell to Dallas in a close game right off the bat in the playoffs dims the shine a bit, but all these years later, the lasting memory is a yard-hungry young running back and an up-and-coming team.

Atlanta made the playoffs just once more in Andrews’ short NFL career, but he managed to finish with nearly 6000 yards despite missing two full years due to a preseason knee injury in 1984.

He came back in 1986 but mustered just 52 carries for 214 yards before calling it a career.

Today, Andrews’ 1980 Topps rookie card is a reminder of what could have been, and what already was.

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