Earlier this week, frequent CSTB contributor David Roth co-authored a Wall Street Journal report concerning the discovery of a videotape of Super Bowl I ; the 1967 clash between Green Bay and Kansas City that was considered of such minor import at the time, neither of the two broadcast networks that carried the game bothered to keep a copy. Given the rare nature of said tape, good fucking luck finding a recording of “The Playoff Bowl”, the unofficial name for a contest between the NFL’s two conference runner-ups that was played the week after the league championship. “It is strange to contemplate that from 1961 to 1970,” writes the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir, ” Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s rising pigskin-industrial complex celebrated something that screamed out, ‘We’re No. 3!’”
The runner-up games benefited the players’ pension fund, but they also got a few hundred to just over a thousand dollars for the junket to Florida.
“We barely had enough for expenses,” said Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel (above), who won the 1968 and ’70 Playoff Bowls in routs. In the days before those games, he said, the disciplinarian Rams Coach George Allen “let us run wild in Miami, but we played loose and won.”
This was the N.F.L. before it started the Super Bowl and initiated multiple rounds of playoffs. Wild cards were for poker, not the postseason.
“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.
The Green Bay Packers sandwiched two Playoff Bowls between N.F.L. titles in 1961 and ’62 and three more championships from ’65 to ’67. Coach Vince Lombardi hated being crowned the league’s best loser when the Packers beat the Browns in 1964 and hated it even more when his boys lost to the St. Louis Cardinals the next year, 24-17. In “Lombardi,” the Broadway play, he called the game “the Toilet Bowl,” a cleaned-up version of what he really said.
After losing to St. Louis, he raged about a “hinky-dink football game, held in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players.”