Hawthorn were playing their fourth successive grand final and had lost the last two, while Carlton were appearing in their first premiership decider since winning the 1982 VFL Grand Final. At the conclusion of the home and away season, Hawthorn had finished first on the VFL ladder with 18 wins and 4 losses. Carlton had finished third (behind Sydney) with 15 wins and 7 losses.
In the finals series in the lead-up to the game, Carlton defeated Sydney in the qualifying final before meeting the Hawks in the second semi-final, which the Blues won by 28 points to advance to the grand final. Hawthorn, after this loss, convincingly defeated Fitzroy by 56 points in the preliminary final to advance to the grand final. Carlton entered the game as slight favourites after their defeat of the Hawks in the second semi-final.
The Hawks jumped out of the blocks early and by early in the second quarter led by 37 points. A seven goal burst by the Hawks in the third quarter sealed their win. In the final quarter Hawthorn kicked only one goal but by then the contest was effectively over. Hawthorn's Jason Dunstall, who was in just his second VFL season, kicked six goals to help the Hawks to victory, while Gary Buckenara kicked four goals for the Hawks, all of them in the first half of the game.
The Norm Smith Medal was awarded to Hawthorn defender Gary Ayres for being judged the best player afield. Ayres was playing on Carlton wingman David Rhys-Jones, who had been a match-winner against Hawthorn in the second semi-final. Ayres, playing on the wing for the first time in five years, nullified Rhys-Jones and set up many attacking moves for the Hawks.
After consecutive grand final defeats in the previous two seasons, Hawthorn proved to the football world that they were anything but a spent force. They would go on to participate in four of the next five grand finals, winning three of them. For Carlton, the comprehensive defeat served as a humiliating reality check. It was also a sad end to the grand career of club legend Bruce Doull, who had six goals kicked on him. Atonement would come soon enough for the Blues when they met Hawthorn again in the 1987 decider, this time running out winners by 33 points.
Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897-1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0