The previous three premierships had been won by either team, Richmond in 1980 and Carlton in 1979 and 1981, all against Collingwood.
The Tigers won eleven successive matches early in the 1980 VFL season and, after a slump as injuries took toll late on the home-and-away rounds, returned to their most devastating form in the finals. At the conclusion of the home and away season, Richmond had finished first on the VFL ladder with 18 wins and 4 losses. Carlton had finished third (behind Hawthorn), with 16 wins 5 losses and a draw.
In the finals series leading up to the Grand Final, Carlton defeated Hawthorn by 58 points in the Qualifying Final before losing to Richmond by 40 points in the Second Semi-Final. They advanced to the Grand Final after beating Hawthorn once again, this time by 31 points in the Preliminary Final. Richmond advanced straight to the Grand Final on the back of their Second Semi-Final victory.
It was a tight game throughout. Carlton started strongly, leading by 18 points just five minutes into the game, before Richmond hit back, and at quarter time the two teams were separated by just four points in Carlton's favour.
A five goal second quarter by the Tigers saw them go into the half time break with an 11 point lead. However, after half time Carlton began to break away, kicking five goals in the third quarter whilst keeping the Tigers goalless to be 17 points up at three-quarter time.
Richmond tried hard at the beginning of the final quarter, with Kevin Bartlett and Jim Jess goalling to close the margin, but the Blues held out to win, marking the first time since the 1915 VFL Grand Final that they had won back-to-back flags.
The Norm Smith Medal was awarded to Richmond's Maurice Rioli for being judged the best player afield, despite the fact that he finished on the losing side. It was the first time that a player from the losing side had won the medal (there have since been three more instances in which a Grand Final player has won a Norm Smith Medal without being on the winning premiership side). It was also the third consecutive season that Rioli had been best afield in a Grand Final; he had won the West Australian Football League's equivalent medal, the Simpson Medal, in the 1980 and 1981 Grand Finals playing for South Fremantle. Wayne Johnston and captain Mike Fitzpatrick were the best for Carlton.
This Grand Final is also remembered for the naked female streaker, Helen D'Amico, who ran onto the field in the third quarter. D'Amico, a 17-year-old stripper from Adelaide, ran onto the field with a Blues scarf and attempted to embrace Carlton player Bruce Doull. She is the first streaker to disrupt a VFL/AFL Grand Final (there would be streakers in the 1983 VFL Grand Final 1988 Grand Final and 1989 Grand Final).
With its 14th premiership, Carlton overtook Collingwood to have won the most premierships in VFL history; this was the first time that Carlton has held this record outright, having previously been tied with Collingwood on 13 flags after 1981, and with Fitzroy on 5 flags after 1915. Carlton has held the record, either outright or jointly with Essendon ever since. Carlton's next premiership success came five years later, when it won the 1987 VFL Grand Final against Hawthorn. Richmond is yet to appear in another Grand Final.