THEY started the year aiming to defend the SANFL premiership, a task unfulfilled at Port Adelaide since 1962-63. They ended the season as the "Record Breakers".
SANFL premiers - and the first to crack the 3000-point barrier for scores accumulated in the 22-round home-and-away season. In 18 of 24 matches, Port Adelaide cracked the 100-point barrier.
SANFL leading goalkicker - and Tim Evans' 146 goals rewrote the record left by Ken Farmer (134 goals) in 1936.
Magarey Medallist - and Russell Ebert, in his return from VFL club North Melbourne, became the first (and remains the only) player to win four of the SANFL's highest individual award.
For the fourth time since 1898 (when William Magarey first offered a gold medal in his name), Port Adelaide had the triple crown - Thomas Seymour Hill premiership trophy, the Magarey Medallist and the leading goalkicker (a year before it was named in honour of Ken Farmer).
The 1980 team, that lost just two games, stands alongside the 1914 "Invincibles" for comparison as the greatest Port Adelaide achievers in a season. In 1914 the Triple Crown was completed with an unbeaten season, Jack Dunn leading the SAFL goalkicking chart with 33 and Jack Ashley winning the Magarey Medal ... and the club's best-and-fairest title.
In 1980 this script changed at Alberton with Stephen Clifford winning the Port Adelaide best-and-fairest, a rare moment the Magarey Medallist was not feted with his club's highest individual award.
"I always through the Port Adelaide selectors gave out their votes better than the umpires (with the Magarey Medal polling)," says Clifford. "I've never said that to Russell ..."
Clifford won three best-and-fairest titles during his nine years at Port Adelaide - on debut in 1978, after starting the season at VFL club Collingwood; 1980 and 1983.
"Plus a couple of runner-ups and a third," recalls Clifford. "Six out of nine years in the top three ... and one year practically lost with a fracture of a leg. It wasn't a bad move ..."
STEPHEN CLIFFORD made his VFL league debut for Collingwood as a 16-year-old in the old inner-Melbourne derby with Carlton in round 18, 1973. Collingwood won by 15 points at Victoria Park; Clifford had 18 touches - and even had the favourable eye of the umpire with four free kicks (one against).
Clifford won the Gardiner Medal - the VFL's silver Magarey equivalent for its old reserves competition - in 1974, despite playing 10 times in the league line-up.
By 1978 - after just two league games in 1977 - Clifford sensed it was time to look elsewhere.
"There had been a fair bit of turmoil at Collingwood," said Clifford, referring to the sacking of Murray Weideman at the end of 1976 to usher Richmond premiership coach Tom Hafey to the coaching role.
"Murray knew Adelaide well (having coached West Adelaide from 1968-1971) and he suggested I move there. He knew I was not happy at Collingwood and was looking for more opportunity. He put me onto West Adelaide.
"(West Adelaide coach and Port Adelaide patriarch) Fos Williams thought he had too many players like me ... too many of the same ability. So it was not going to be West Adelaide.
"Then I get a call from (former Port Adelaide rover and committeeman Graham) 'Sandy' Virgo. Six games in at Collingwood, I wasn't getting pick for the A grade despite being the best player in the reserves ... it was time to go.
"I packed the car, came to Port Adelaide and started in the reserves against West Torrens. It wasn't my best game, but Jack (Cahill) thought I had shown enough in his eyes. Next week, I was on the bench for the A grade ... against Sturt at Unley. When I came on, they were already leading by 10 goals - and won by 97 points. I'm thinking, 'What have I got myself in for here ... am I going to play finals here?'
"Worked out pretty well in the end ... preliminary final and, to my surprise, the best-and-fairest in my first year. And a premiership in my second."
Port Adelaide gained a tough midfielder with a booming kick - and "Bomber" Clifford added his larrikin spirit to the heart and soul of his new home at Alberton. He oozed confidence. He also lived up to his bravado.
SANFL seasons in which Port Adelaide has won the flag, had the Magarey Medallist and leading goalkicker (since 1898 with the inception of the Magarey Medal)
1910 - "Shine" Hosking and Frank Hansen (46 goals)
1914 - Jack Ashley and Jack Dunn (33)
1956 - Dave Boyd and Rex Johns (70)
1980 - Russell Ebert and Tim Evans (146)
1990 - Scott Hodges double (153)
1992 - Nathan Buckley and Mark Tylor (97)
SEASON 1980 was without comparison. Port Adelaide opened its premiership defence with a 72-72 draw after holding Central District to no goal in the last term at Elizabeth Oval.
And then the machine was ruthless - 108-point win against Norwood at Alberton in round 2, 37.21 and a 161-point win against Woodville at Football Park in round 3, 117-point win against West Adelaide at Alberton Oval in round 4 with Tim Evans a record 16 goals in Port Adelaide's 28.19 ....
"A magnificent player, Tim Evans," said Clifford of the full forward in Port Adelaide's Greatest Team (1870-2000). "Plays centre half-back for Geelong; starts at centre half-back at Port Adelaide and then Jack has this idea to put him at full forward.
"Yeah, Tim kicked a lot of goals (a club record 1044 in 232 SANFL league games) ... but so he should have. The ball was down there 75 per cent of the time.
"Strange thing about Tim Evans ... in all those years of his tormenting full backs, it was not until late in his career that one of them had a go at him - Craig Balme at Norwood. We're not going to forget that 1984 grand final are we?" added Clifford referring to the pre-game blows traded by Evans and Balme in the northern goalsquare while the national anthem played.
"We not only had Tim scoring goals in those years. Ross Agius wrote his own record for his 60-odd goals one season from a forward pocket. Darrell Cahill (263 goals in 375 games) and Brian Cunningham (428 goals in 256 matches) managed a few too."
Port Adelaide finished the 22-round home-and-away season with a 19-1-2 win-draw-loss record. It rewrote the record books by accumulating 3176 points (game average of 144) while conceding just 1687 (77-point average) while every other team bled at least 2000 points in defence. Port Adelaide's percentage was 65.31 - close to the 67.68 of the 1914 Invincibles.
"We could play average footy and win - or we would play really well and blitz the opposition," recalled Clifford. "We had incredible self-belief - and belief in each other. There would be times when we'd be three or four goals down on the scoreboard and still believe we would win the game.
"Jack had this extraordinary way to make the players believe in themselves. He made us better players than we thought we were."
Port Adelaide dismantled Sturt in the second semi-final building the 63-point win with an eight-goal second term. Evans kicked 10 of the 24 goals on that Sunday afternoon at West Lakes.
A month after Port Adelaide had kept traditional rival Norwood scoreless in the first term at The Parade before winning the round 20 match by 55 points, the grand pairing was on Football Park for a nationally telecast grand final on Sunday, October 4.
Norwood led by eight points at quarter-time, Port Adelaide by one at half-time and Norwood by four points at the last change after holding the mega-scoring machine from Alberton to just six goals. It was the first time since round 16 - against Glenelg at Glenelg Oval - that Port Adelaide did not have 10 goals on the scoreboard at three quarter-time.
"It was Norwood," said Clifford of a respected rival that had lost to Port Adelaide by 108 points in round 2 at Alberton, by 90 points at Football Park in round 11 and 55 points at The Parade in round 20.
"And this was the grand final. They have their pride. They were always going to make it tough for us.
"We had Greg Phillips saving us at centre half-back, taking mark after mark. And then Bruce Abernethy runs down (Graeme) 'Mocca' Dunstan, another ex-Collingwood player, for holding-the-ball and that goal at the southern end that breaks open the grand final. That's the turning point. That is the moment that lifted everyone's spirits."
Port Adelaide won by 18 points, 11.15 (81) to 9.9 (63). Back-to-back premierships for the first time in 17 years - and the Triple Crown was complete for Port Adelaide for the first time since 1956 when Rex Johns topped the SANFL goalkicking chart with 70 and Dave Boyd was awarded the Magarey Medal while ruckman-defender Ted Whelan claimed the best-and-fairest award.
HISTORY was repeating ...
Ebert claimed his fourth Magarey Medal with the umpires handing the Port Adelaide centreman 49 of the 213 votes collected by the league's best-performed team. With nine-best afield, Ebert outpolled Norwood hero Michael Taylor by four votes and 1978 Magarey Medallist Kym Hodge an by five.
Clifford claimed 18 votes (with three best-afield) to stand as Port Adelaide's fifth best (and fairest) according to the umpires, behind Greg Phillips (32 votes), Bruce Abernethy (22) and captain Brian Cunningham (19).
"I did not get on with the umpires," recalls Clifford. "Not sure why. I never did anything untowards on the field. I never hit anyone. I tended to talk a bit, particularly to the umpires ... I sometimes wonder why I didn't take up umpiring. I should have.
"Russell (Ebert) won the Magarey Medal in 1980. How do you explain that? And (Port Adelaide general manager) 'Big Bob' McLean brings down the presentation stage at the count ... He was a terrific bloke 'Big Bob' ... in every aspect. Tight with the money, though. Good thing I was not playing for the money ... I reckon I was on $200 a game when I started and was on $250 after I had three best-and-fairests.
"I wasn't playing for money; I was in love with the game and how fortunate was I that I finished at Port Adelaide rather than at Westies. Fos Williams did another favour for Port Adelaide there."
On November 14, Clifford claimed the 1980 Port Adelaide best-and-fairest award - later named in McLean's honour - outpolling runner-up Greg Phillips and third-ranked Ebert in a headline-grabbing count. Ebert had previously paired the Magarey and Port Adelaide best-and-fairest in 1971, 1974 and 1976 during a grand career that includes six club champion titles at Alberton.
Clifford stayed at Port Adelaide to the end of his league football career - and today still works on the docks as a true "wharfie" - while the team was picked off by VFL recruiting raids and financial challenges at Alberton.
"I could have gone back for another go at the VFL," Clifford said.
"First time I looked at it was 1980. I thought I might go back. We won the flag and I was the best-and-fairest. Port Adelaide had done right thing by me, so you don't leave. Then we win another flag in 1981 and I'm not leaving after that.
"At that point, we have won three in a row - 1979, 1980 and 1981 - and I am entrenched at the Port Adelaide Football Club. This is my family. It is part of my life. I am Port Adelaide. This is the club for people who are born to win. You are pretty stiff to play for Port Adelaide and not get the at least one premiership."
Clifford retired in 1986.
"I could have gone on for another year," Clifford said. "But it is always good to leave when people remember you on a high note. Port Adelaide was in a good place to - as the record shows."
Born: September 18, 1956 (age 64)
Played: 162 SANFL league games with Port Adelaide, 1978-1986; 38 VFL senior games with Collingwood, 1973-1978.
Honours: Port Adelaide premiership player, 1979, 1980, 1981; Port Adelaide best-and-fairest champion, 1978, 1980 and 1983. Also Gardiner Medal as VFL best-and-fairest in reserves competition, 1974.