It was Richmond's first appearance in a premiership decider since winning the 1974 VFL Grand Final, while Collingwood had competed in and lost two of the previous three Grand Finals, in 1977 and 1979. The Magpies had not won a flag since the 1958 VFL Grand Final.
Richmond, under coach Tony Jewell, made the decision in the 1980 home and away season to move rover Kevin Bartlett to the half-forward flank, leading to him kicking 84 goals. At the conclusion of the season, Richmond had finished third on the VFL ladder (behind Geelong and Carlton) with 16 wins, 5 losses and a draw. Collingwood had finished fifth with 14 wins, 7 losses and a draw. Collingwood was coached by Tom Hafey who at one time had coached Jewell at Richmond.
In the finals series leading up to the Grand Final, Collingwood defeated North Melbourne in the Elimination Final by 8 points before comfortably beating Carlton by 50 points to progress to the Preliminary Final. There they defeated Geelong by just 4 points to advance to the Grand Final. The Magpies became the first team to reach the Grand Final via the Elimination Final. Meanwhile, Richmond defeated Carlton by 42 points in the Qualifying Final and then Geelong by 24 points in the Second Semi-Final to progress to the Grand Final.
Bartlett was awarded the Norm Smith Medal for being judged the best player afield, kicking seven goals, which equaled the then-record. His goal tally for the 1980 VFL finals was 21 which saw him become just the fourth player in history to kick 20 or more goals in a finals series. Cloke contributed 6 goals and Wiley 3 to the team's winning score.
The 81 point winning margin broke the record for the greatest margin in Grand Final history, and stood for three years until Hawthorn surpassed it in the 1983 VFL Grand Final. Richmond have not won a premiership since, with their only subsequent Grand Final appearance being in the 1982 VFL Grand Final, which it lost to Carlton.
This was Collingwood's seventh Grand Final loss since 1958, in the era dubbed "the Colliwobbles".