The Forgotten History of the Playoff Bowl and How It Could Work in the NFL Today

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIFebruary 4, 2009

The year was 1959. During a time when the National Football League was beginning to face competition from the upstart American Football League, team owners created a revolutionary concept in an effort to better showcase some of the NFL's top talent.

That concept like so many other things in sports history, has been lost to the annals of time.

Back in 1959, there was only one playoff game and that was the historic NFL Championship game (the precursor to our modern day Super Bowl). The NFL Championship game was comprised of the winners of both the Eastern and Western conferences.

The only issue with this playoff system was that other quality teams who finished second in each conference were left without anything to play for.

As a result, the NFL Playoff Bowl (otherwise known as the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl) was held as a contest between both second place conference finalists to determine who would be considered the third best team in the National Football League.

This gave the NFL an opportunity to feature four premiere teams instead of two during their post-season. This helped the league showcase more of their talent and gain better television exposure during a crucial time when competing with the AFL

Even with the establishment of the Super Bowl in 1966 (technically known as the NFL-AFL Championship game before Super Bowl III) the NFL Playoff Bowl continued to match up the runners up of each conference in this post-season contest.

Since there was a two week break between both the NFL and AFL Championship games, the Playoff Bowl was held during the idle week in between.

The creation of the Super Bowl was one of the main factors in the Playoff Bowl's demise. No longer was there as dire a need to see a secondary post-season game.

The expansion of the NFL in 1967 further hurt the value of the Playoff Bowl. In that year, the NFL expanded to 16 teams with two divisions in each conference. The winners of each division would face each other in a post-season game and those winners would advance to the NFL Championship Game.

The losers on the other hand advanced to the Playoff Bowl.

This led to criticisms as the Playoff Bowl was now viewed by some to be the "losers bowl". Vince Lombardi was known for harboring negative views towards the game. He referred to the game as the "Sh*t Bowl". After winning the NFL Championship in both 1961 and 1962, he had to settle for a victory in the Playoff Bowl in 1963. The greater issue arose when his Packers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1964 Playoff Bowl. One has to speculate if that had a factor in Lombardi's animosity towards the game.

Even more peculiar to some is that the losers of the Playoff Bowl in the years of 1967 to 1969 finished with an 0-2 record in the post-season.

With the NFL-AFL merger of 1970, the Playoff Bowl was discontinued.

With the creation of the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl and an extended post-season schedule, the NFL no longer saw enough value in playoff game comprised of losing teams.

The only remnants of the Playoff Bowl that still exist today is the fact that the coaches of the two teams that lose in the Conference Championship games gain the opportunity to coach in the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. This was a compromise made when the league decided to scrap the Playoff Bowl in case you ever wondered why that happens.

So what does all of this mean?

Being a fan of the National Football League for 12 years, I found it very peculiar that I have never once heard mention of a Playoff Bowl. I've read many books, watched countless programs, and written tons of articles but never once did the mention of a Playoff Bowl ever come up.

Since the AFL-NFL merger, every Playoff Bowl which was once viewed as a post-season game is now classified as an exhibition game.

That is a real shame too because even though those teams never managed to win NFL Championships, something should be said for the winning teams that defeated an opposing top-four league talent.

For the benefit of those never heard of the Playoff Bowl, these are the results of every such contest from when it was created in 1960 to right before it was discontinued in 1969.

1960: Detroit Lions over the Cleveland Browns, 17-16.

1961: Detroit Lions over the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-10.

1962: Detroit Lions over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-10.

1963: Green Bay Packers over the Cleveland Browns, 40-23.

1964: St. Louis Cardinals over the Green Bay Packers, 24-17.

1965: Baltimore Colts over the Dallas Cowboys, 35-3.

1966: Baltimore Colts over the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-14.

1967: Los Angeles Rams over the Cleveland Browns, 30-6.

1968: Dallas Cowboys over the Minnesota Vikings, 17-13.

1969: Los Angeles Rams over the Dallas Cowboys, 31-0.

These games are relevant due to the fact that each and every team that competed in them did so viewing the game as an important post-season contest. Although none of them became NFL Champions, their post-season victories against other quality teams should certainly be valued instead of being discarded.

Which brings me to my second point. If the Playoff Bowl worked in the 1960's, why couldn't it work today?

With everyone complaining about the length of the NFL season and with people wanting to see more quality football games, why not give it to them?

Have the losers of the Conference Championship games face each other during the idle week before the Super Bowl. This would enable both losing teams with one final opportunity to end their season on a high note.

The only valid argument I could see being made against this proposition would be that the competing teams would not want to risk a second post-season defeat for a game that many players could view as the "losers bowl".

With that being said, don't you think that the players would love to have a final opportunity to close out their season with a victory?

If the players honestly had an issue in competing in an additional post-season contest then they don't have enough passion to play the sport of football.

No matter how bad a team loses their Conference Championship game, getting to that point is something to be proud of.

I believe enabling the coaches and players with a final opportunity to gain a valuable post-season victory would prove to be beneficial to the players, coaches, and fans alike.

The proper way to give the new creation of a Playoff Bowl legitimacy would be to award the winning team with a trophy that proclaims them to be the third place finalist of the league.

In the NCAA, winners of major Bowl games are awarded specialized trophies and the teams value them as a representation of winning an important game. Doing so with the re-establishment of a Playoff Bowl would enable the players on both teams with something of value to compete for. I certainly feel that any team would prefer to finish with a third place trophy then a major Conference Championship post-season loss.

Are you to tell me that if fans of the Ravens and Eagles had a chance to see their teams compete one final time in an important post-season contest, that they wouldn't be interested?

Just something to think about if nothing else.

In conclusion, I found the history of the Playoff Bowl to be quite interesting.

It's a shame that for ten years of the league's history, there were important games played that the majority of NFL fans have no knowledge of. I can only hope that this article can bring fourth the proper exposure necessary to inform the NFL public about an important chapter in the sport's history.


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