In a decade in which the Raiders hoisted the Lombardi Trophy twice, narrowing down this list was tricky. Only the truly great make it this time.
Like always, we will use the scoring system from last year’s “5 Greatest Raiders of All Time” piece, with a few tweaks of course. When we look at terms like greatest ever, best ever, and career in this piece, we’re only talking about Raiders offensive players and what they did between the years 1980 and 1989.
This time around, the bar was set pretty high just for honorable mention.
Dave Dalby and Don Mosebar, Center, 1980-85 and ’83-’89 Respectively, Score: 17/25
The pair of centers both had significant portions of their long careers in the 1980s. While some might argue that Mosebar was better than Dalby in this decade, it is not that simple. You see Mosebar only played center in the ’80s for about four seasons, partly because Dalby was the team’s center from ’80 to ’84. You can make a legitimate case for either one as the best center of the ’80s, giving them each a ‘4’ in that category. While Dalby’s two rings gave him a leg up in ‘Team Success’ but Mosebar’s Pro Bowl nod in ’86 gave him the edge in ‘Personal Accolades’. In the end, the two received equal scores.
Mickey Marvin, Guard, 1980-87, Score: 18/25
Marvin was a dominant force on the Raiders’ offensive line on their best teams of the decade. In the ’80s, he started 103 games, including 11 in the postseason, and two in the Super Bowl. Despite his long run of reliability, Marvin never received a single trip to the Pro Bowl or any other personal accolades for that matter. This is the main thing keeping him in ‘Honorable Mention’.
Henry Lawrence, Tackle, 1980-86, Score: 20/25
While the left side of the line was the team’s strength in the 70s with Shell and Upshaw, it was the right side with Marvin and Lawrence that was relied upon in the 80s. Lawrence locked down the right tackle position during the decade for 113 starts, including 10 in the postseason, and two Super Bowls. Lawrence also earned back-to-back invites to the Pro Bowl in ’83 and ’84. He has the strongest case for being the Raiders’ best offensive lineman of the decade.
While strong offensive line play is the hallmark of all good Raiders teams, the skill position players of the 80s had too strong of a case. They dominate this top four.
4. Cliff Branch, Wide Receiver, 1980-85
A. Best Player Relative to Team: 3
B. Best Player Relative to Position: 4
C. Personal Accolades: 4
D. Team Success: 5
E. Time Spent With Raiders: 5
Branch was a tough one to score, especially in this decade. By the 80s, his production began to drop off a bit, but he was still the team’s de facto number one wide receiver on both Super Bowl teams. However, by ’83 he was really only the team’s third option in the passing game behind two players that will be mentioned later on. For that reason, he only got a ‘3’ in the category. The question of whether or not Branch was the best wideout of the 80s was also a tough call. In the end, it is hard to argue that Branch was clearly better than Mervyn Fernandez (strictly in that decade of course). For that reason, they both got a ‘4’ in that category.
Perhaps the trickiest category to score was ‘Personal Accolades’. All of Branch’s Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections came in the 70s, so none of those counts here. That being said, Branch is, for all intents and purposes, a future Hall of Famer. A big part of his case for the ‘Hall’ is the fact that he was a key member of three Super Bowl teams, two of which came in the 80s. Factoring all that in, he got a ‘4’ in that category.
What it all boils down to is that Branch was a Raider through and through, and he was on the best teams in franchise history. While Branch’s best years may not have come in the 80s, his time in that decade is still better than most.
3. Todd Christensen, Tight End, 1980-88
Man, oh man, was Todd Christensen good. For about a five-year stretch, his productivity was absurd for a tight end of that time. From ’83 to ’87, he was statistically outperforming Hall of Famers like Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow. Christensen was the Raiders’ primary receiver on the Super Bowl team in ’83. That was not nearly as common back then as it has become today.
Category ‘A’ was Christensen’s biggest loss in points. The reason for that is that there was another player who we will talk about later that was just too good that he had to earn a ‘5’, leaving the tight end stuck with a ‘3’. His only other non-perfect category was ‘Personal Accolades’. One of the main things that keep Christensen out of the Hall’ is the brevity of his career. Outside of his five Pro Bowl seasons, he only had four others in which he even caught a single pass. That being said, Christensen’s two First-Team All-Pro selections should have four. With all due respect to Mark Bavaro, his numbers in ’86 and ’87 do not compare to Christensen’s. I get he was a better blocker, but not that much.
While Christensen may never be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he is certainly good enough for this list. He was one of the best players on some of the Raiders’ best teams ever, and he has a decent case for being the best Raiders tight end ever.
2. Jim Plunkett, Quarterback, 1980-86
We cannot talk about the Raiders from the 80s without Jim Plunkett. After being considered one of the biggest busts ever by the end of the 70s, he became arguably the greatest redemption story ever. Imagine Blaine Gabbert taking over as the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback and winning two Super Bowls with them. It is bonkers.
Scoring with Plunkett was tricky. Obviously, he had to get a ‘3’ in category ‘A’ for the same reasons as Christensen. Category ‘C’ required some rationality. No, Plunkett does not have any Pro Bowl or All-Pro selections, and he is not in the Hall of Fame (yet). However, he has a lot going for him. He has two rings, a Super Bowl MVP, and a Comeback Player of the Year award. I personally believe that any starting quarterback on multiple Super Bowl teams should automatically get in. Unfortunately, we will probably have to wait for Eli Manning’s induction to set a precedent for Plunkett. Still, he is a future Hall of Famer in my book. He earns a ‘5’ in that category, as well as in ‘B, D, and E’.
At the end of the day, Plunkett was the guy playing the most important position on both Super Bowl teams in the ’80s. How he got there does not matter. He is impossible to leave off this list.
1. Marcus Allen, Running Back, 1982-89
This was a no-brainer. Marcus Allen was the clear-cut best Raiders offensive player of the 1980s. One could argue that he was one of the greatest offensive players of the ’80s period. The numbers speak for themselves. He has every accolade you could imagine.
His 1985 season was arguably the greatest season a running back had ever had at that point. He set the NFL single-season record for total yards from scrimmage. Allen also led the league in rushing yards and yards per game that year. Perhaps his most difficult achievement was winning over the writers. That year, he was earned a Pro Bowl, first-team All-Pro, Offensive Player of the Year, and MVP.
Still unsure if Marcus deserves the top spot on this list? I have an exercise for you. Close your eyes. When you hear the phrase “80s Raiders,” what pops into your head? Was it this? For most, I think it probably was.
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*Top Photo: Jose Carlos Fajardo/The Mercury News