The Playoff Bowl (officially, the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl) was a post-season game for third place in the NFL, played ten times following the 1960 through 1969 seasons, all at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
Bell was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Eagles as well as a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers during much of the 1940s. He was the commissioner of the NFL from 1946 until his death in October 1959, which occurred while attending an Eagles-Steelers game. Over the decade, the game contributed more than a million dollars to the Bert Bell players' pension fund.
All ten games in the Playoff Bowl series were contested at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The games were played in January, the week following the NFL championship game (and the collegiate Orange Bowl game on New Year's Day), except for the final year, when it was played the day before the NFL title game. The NFL's Pro Bowl (all-star game) was played the week after the Playoff Bowl.
After the 1959 season, NFL owners faced competition from the newly formed American Football League and wanted a vehicle through which to showcase more of its supposedly superior NFL professional football product on television. At the time, unlike the AFL, which had a contract with ABC-TV for nationally televised games, often double-headers, few NFL games were televised during the season and there was only one scheduled post-season game, the NFL Championship Game. The Playoff Bowl was devised to match the second-place teams from the NFL's two conferences (Eastern and Western). This doubled from two to four the number of top NFL teams appearing in post-season play on national television.
The 1966 season required another game following the American Football League Championship Game and the NFL Championship Game, the first of four AFL–NFL World Championship Games between the champions of the two major Professional Football leagues for the undisputed championship. The establishment of the AFL-NFL World Championship Game (Super Bowl was not its official name until Super Bowl III) was the first phase of the AFL–NFL merger of June 1966. This new mega-game between the rival leagues was played in mid-January at a warm weather location, two weeks after the championship games for each league. The NFL's Playoff Bowl was played during the idle week, and because of the major-league status of the AFL, interest in the game was waning. In addition, the Miami Dolphins arrived in 1966 as an expansion franchise in the AFL.
In the 1967 season, the NFL expanded to 16 teams and four scheduled post-season contests. The NFL sub-divided its two conferences (now eight teams each) into two divisions of four teams each: The Capitol and Century divisions in the Eastern conference, and the Central and Coastal divisions in the Western conference. The four division winners advanced to the post-season, competing for their conference titles in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The winners (conference champions) advanced to the NFL championship game, the losers (conference runners-up) appeared in the Playoff Bowl to vie for third place. For the three seasons (1967-69) preceding the 1970 merger with the AFL, the loser of the NFL's third place game ended up with a peculiar record of 0-2 for that post-season. In its final season in 1969, the AFL also expanded to a four-team post-season, adding two more playoff games.
In January 1968 and 1969, the Super Bowl was played in the Orange Bowl the following week, which also contributed to the declining attendance for the NFL's consolation game.
The end of the Playoff Bowl
When the merger was completed for the 1970 season, there was discussion about continuing the Playoff Bowl, with the losers of the AFC and NFC Championship Games playing each other during the idle week before the Super Bowl. There were now seven post-season games in the NFL (three for each conference, plus the Super Bowl), and the Pro Bowl all-star game. A "losers' game" was not necessarily attractive for the league, and the Playoff Bowl came to an end.
Although the ten Playoff Bowls were official third place playoff games at the time they were played, the NFL currently classifies them as exhibition games, and does not include them in the official results (or statistics) for the post-season.
Vince Lombardi detested the Playoff Bowl, coaching in the games following the 1963 and 1964 seasons, after winning NFL titles in 1961 and 1962. To his players, he called it "the 'Shit Bowl', ...a losers' bowl for losers." This lack of motivation may explain his Packers' rare postseason defeat in the 1964 game (January 1965) to the St. Louis Cardinals. After that loss, he fumed about "a hinky-dink football game, held in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players. That's all second place is – hinky dink."
Using the Playoff Bowl (and loss) as motivation in 1965, the Packers won the first of three consecutive NFL championships from 1965-67. As of 2013, the Packers are the only NFL team ever to achieve this "three-peat" in the post-season era (which began in 1933). During this successful run, the Packers also won the first two Super Bowls in convincing fashion. In an ironic twist, Lombardi's final game (and victory) as head coach of the Packers was Super Bowl II, played in "hinky-dink" Miami's Orange Bowl in January 1968.
All-Pro defensive tackle Roger Brown appeared in five Playoff Bowls, the most by any player, and was on the winning side each time (Detroit Lions, 1960–61–62; Los Angeles Rams, 1967, 1969). He said playing in those seemingly meaningless contests was like having "the worst inferiority complex." He added, "I was in five of them, and to have played in it five in the ten years it was in existence is pitiful."
One vestige of the Playoff Bowl remained through the 2008 season in that the head coaches of the losing teams from the conference championship games were the head coaches of their conferences' Pro Bowl teams. From 1980 to 2009, this all-star game has been played at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu the Sunday following the Super Bowl. However, in 2010, the Pro Bowl moved to Miami Gardens, FL, just as the Playoff Bowl was, and was played the week before Super Bowl XLIV (as the Playoff Bowl was in the Super Bowl era). The game returned to Hawaii for 2011 and 2012, with future sites to be determined.
For the 2009 season, a new rule for determining the Pro Bowl coaches resulted in the disappearance of one Playoff Bowl legacy. The coaching staffs for the 2010 Pro Bowl did not come from the losers of the conference championship games, but instead from the teams with the best regular-season records among those that lost in the divisional round of the playoffs in each conference.
Playoff Bowl results
All ten games were played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. Most were played the week following the NFL Championship game, with two exceptions: the first was played two weeks after and the last the day before.
|1960||January 7, 1961||Detroit Lions||17-16||Cleveland Browns||34,981|
|1961||January 6, 1962||Detroit Lions (2)||38-10||Philadelphia Eagles||25,612|
|1962||January 6, 1963||Detroit Lions (3)||17-10||Pittsburgh Steelers||36,284|
|1963||January 5, 1964||Green Bay Packers||40-23||Cleveland Browns||54,921|
|1964||January 3, 1965||St. Louis Cardinals||24-17||Green Bay Packers||56,218|
|1965||January 9, 1966||Baltimore Colts||35-3||Dallas Cowboys||65,569|
|1966||January 8, 1967||Baltimore Colts (2)||20-14||Philadelphia Eagles||58,088|
|1967||January 7, 1968||Los Angeles Rams||30-6||Cleveland Browns||37,102|
|1968||January 5, 1969||Dallas Cowboys||17-13||Minnesota Vikings||22,961|
|1969||January 3, 1970||Los Angeles Rams (2)||31-0||Dallas Cowboys||31,151|
|2||Los Angeles Rams||2||0||1.000|
|2||Green Bay Packers||1||1||.500|
|1||St. Louis Cardinals||1||0||1.000|
|Season||Network||Play-by-play||Color commentator(s)||Sideline reporter(s)|
|1969||CBS||Jack Whitaker||Frank Gifford and Don Perkins|
|1968||CBS||Ray Scott||Paul Christman||Frank Glieber|
|1967||CBS||Frank Glieber||Frank Gifford|
|1966||CBS||Chuck Thompson||Tom Brookshier|
|1965||CBS||Frank Glieber (first half) and Chuck Thompson (second half)||Pat Summerall|
|1964||CBS||Jack Drees (first half) and Earl Gillespie (second half)||Frank Gifford|
|1963||CBS||Ray Scott (first half) and Ken Coleman (second half)||Frank Gifford|
|1962||CBS||Chris Schenkel (first half) and Ray Scott (second half)||Warren Lahr|
|1961||CBS||Chris Schenkel (first half) and Van Patrick (second half)||Johnny Lujack|
- Sandomir, Richard (Sunday, February 6, 2011). "Little Consolation in Third-Place Game". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
- "'Fun Week' may be over". St. Petersburg Independent. Associated Press. January 6, 1969. p. 2C.
- "Pride richest plum in Playoff Bowl game". Miami News. January 3, 1970. p. 1-B.
- Wyche, Steve (2009-12-28). "Pro Bowl selections, like game itself, will have new wrinkles". NFL.com. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
- 1969 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1968 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1967 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1966 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1965 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1964 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1963 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1962 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- 1961 NFL-AFL Commentator Crews
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- When Pride Still Mattered, A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss, 1999, p. 362 (ISBN 0-684-84418-4)
- http://www.pro-football-reference.com - Large online database of NFL data and statistics
- ProLog/The National Football League Annual 1970-71, by Bob Oates, Jr., NFL Properties, 1971, (ISBN 0-695-80261-5)