The Daily Helmet: Playoff Bowl-The Battle For 3rd Place
The 1960s was a notable decade for professional football. The success of the AFL, the first Super Bowl and television contracts and the beginning of the National Football League’s rise to the top of sports popularity in the United States. One less notable highlight of the 1960s was the Playoff Bowl. Officially called the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl (proceeds went to players pension fund), the game was played from january 1961 to 1970 to determine the all important third place team. At the time the NFL had limited national TV exposure and with the new popular upstart American Football league in the picture, they decided that they needed one more postseason game to get some national eyeballs on their league. The games were played at the Orange Bowl in Miami Florida and slated the third and fourth place teams in the NFL for the third place title. To make it as anti-climatic as possible they played the game a week after the NFL Championship game except for its final year.
The games were far from successful and interest in the game was as expected, minimal. I can’t imagine winning third place was much of a consolation prize for the two teams that just missed out on a chance at a championship. The players were paid for the game. With each player getting a few hundred to a thousand bucks later on and a trip to Miami. Not too shabby. Other than that the games were pretty forgettable. Vince Lombardi hated the game and the fact that his Packers had to play in two of them in between sets of multiple Championships. He is said to have referred to it as the “Shit Bowl“. The Detroit Lions were class of the Loser Bowl, winning the first three Playoff Bowls. The Colts and the Rams both had two third place championships, with LA beating the Packers in 1964. The other notable thing that happened in the Playoff Bowl was the Steelers introduction of their black helmets. Worn for the first time in the 1963 (1962 season) Loser Bowl.
Once the two leagues agreed to a merge in addition to the Dolphins showing up on the scene in South Florida, the game was of little to no interest anymore and it showed in the attendance figures. The game after the 1969 season was the last. There was some discussion about continuing the game with the two conference losers playing each other, but it was never to be and the Playoff Bowl was left to history, although once considered official games, they are now officially exhibition games in the record books.
If you want a ticket stub to the 1961 game, eBay is here for you.