Hawthorn, who were competing in their inaugural VFL Grand Final despite being in the competition since 1925, came into the game as minor premiers and favourites. Footscray, the 1954 premiership winners, had finished the home and away season in fourth place but upset the Ron Barassi-led Melbourne by 27 points in the Preliminary Final to end the Demons' sequence of seven consecutive Grand Final appearances.
It was a young Footscray side, with only two players coming into the game with more than 80 VFL games behind them, although one of them was veteran Ted Whitten. Hawthorn's Brendan Edwards was playing in his 100th VFL game and dominated in the centre. Despite trailing at half time, Hawthorn won comfortably in the end courtesy of a dominant third quarter in which they kicked six goals to just one by Footscray.
The Bulldogs did not appear in another Grand Final until 2016, which they won.
The 1961 Grand Final is the oldest currently available on DVD. Videos of the 1962, 1963 and 1964 Grand Finals have not yet surfaced. It is also the first Grand Final in VFL/AFL history that did not include any of the original eight clubs that formed the VFL in 1897 (Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St. Kilda, South Melbourne).
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