Bring back Playoff Bowl: How about New England-San Francisco playing today?

With the NFL on a quest to seemingly squeeze every last dollar from its TV package, here’s an idea they probably haven’t considered. Or maybe they have.

A few week ago, Ben Koo, the CEO of Bloguin and GM of Awful Announcing, did a tweet saying: “I think this year more than any other, I’d be really game for a third place consolation NFL game.”

I responded to Koo saying that such a game actually existed. “Whoa,” he said. “Had no idea.”

I barely remember the game. I’m old, but not that old. But thanks to our pals, Google and Wikipedia, here’s a look back at the Playoff Bowl.

From the Wikipedia page:

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.

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.

Can you imagine playing a consolation game the week after the title game? Needless to say, one coach wasn’t fond of his team’s two appearances in the Playoff Bowl.

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.”

When I did a tweet about the Playoff Bowl in response to Koo, one person tweeted, “Seem to remember Frank Ryan always playing in that game.”

Actually, the Cleveland QB played in two Playoff Bowls. Richard Sandomir talked to Ryan and other Playoff Bowl competitors for a 2011 story in the New York Times.

“It was sort of a fluff game,” said Frank Ryan, the Cleveland Browns quarterback who led his team to the 1964 N.F.L. championship but lost two Runner-Up Bowls.

“That ridiculous game shows how ridiculous the league was in those days,” he said.

At gatherings with teammates, do they reminisce about it?

“It never comes up,” Ryan said.

Yes, but that was the 60s. The TV stakes are so much higher now. Imagine if today’s schedule featured New England going up against San Francisco today. Wouldn’t you rather watch that than the Pro Bowl?

Actually, the NFL probably would do the Playoff Bowl and Pro Bowl as a doubleheader.

Given that most of the U.S. trapped inside because of the cold, the Playoff Bowl would do a strong rating. With the TV money, the NFL could offer a huge incentive for the players to strap on the helmet one more time.

I know, it won’t happen. The players never would go for it.

Then again, this is the NFL, and the networks can’t get enough football…



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