The Background of the Playoff Bowl
The Playoff Bowl is the familiar name for a postseason game formerly played in the National Football League. Its official name was the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, but it was also called the Pro Playoff Classic. It is also sometimes referred to as the "Runner-Up Bowl." Bell, a founding owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and later, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the Commissioner of the N.F.L. from 1946 to 1959. Among his notable contributions to the game was his conceptualizing of an N.F.L. player draft, his successful battle with the rival upstart AAFC, the authorization for local blackouts of televised games to encourage attendance and the recognition of the N.F.L. Players Association. He died suddenly of a heart attack suffered at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, during the last two minutes of a game between the Eagles and the Steelers on October 11, 1959.
From 1960 through 1966, the memorial Bert Bell Playoff Bowl matched up the teams that finished in second place in the two conferences (Eastern and Western) that the league had at that time. From 1967 to 1969, the losers of the Eastern and Western Conference championship games met (the conference title games having become necessary because in 1967 the conferences were further split up into two divisions each, the first-place finishers from which competed in these games). All ten games in the series were contested at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
The game had no real meaning to the final season standings or statistically. For that reason, Vince Lombardi called it “a rinky-dink game.” At the time of the games, CBS-TV advertised them as “playoff games for third place in the N.F.L.” But, the actual purpose for the game was to serve as a postseason exhibition intended to draw fans and help coaches plan for the following season. Today the N.F.L. views them as exhibition games and does not include records of the game participants or results in league playoff statistics. Interest in the game was slight in the early years with attendance averaging 32,000 the first three years. Attendance peaked at 65,659 for the 1966 game between Baltimore and Dallas. It waned in the latter years with a low of 22, 941 in 1969.
When the N.F.L. and A.F.L. merged effective with the 1970 football season (the corporate merger having been consummated three years earlier), there was some discussion about continuing the Playoff Bowl, with the losers of the AFC and NFC Championship Games. The game was to be held during the idle week between these games and the Super Bowl. However, this was not ultimately proceeded with, and the Playoff Bowl came to an end.
Two vestiges of the Playoff Bowl does remain today, in that the head coaches of the two teams that lost the AFC and NFC championship games do become the head coaches of the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl teams, which play one another one week after the Super Bowl. And, the game was played at a neutral, warm-weather site, which would characterize the Super Bowl in future years.
Playoff Bowl — 1964
In 1963, the defending N.F.L. champion Green Bay Packers battled George Halas’ Chicago Bears for league supremacy. The Pack came up just short posting an 11-2-1 record. Their only losses came at the hands of the Bears (11-1-2). The Bears would go on to win the N.F.L. championship that season and the Packers would settle for an appearance in the Playoff Bowl. Jim Taylor rushed for over 1,000 yards and Bart Starr to Boyd Dowler was a lethal passing combination. In the East, the Cleveland Browns finished a game behind the New York Giants with a 10-4 record. The Browns were led by league leading rusher Jim Brown (1863 yards) and Frank Ryan, who threw for 2038 yards.
When the season ended, Green Bay had the third best winning percentage in N.F.L. history for a team not to make the playoffs since the format was adopted in 1933. The Packers were favored in the Playoff Bowl and would not disappoint. They easily handled the Browns, 40 to 23. Green Bay was led by Tom Moore, who had two touchdowns, including a 99-yard pass reception from Bart Starr. The pass completion tied an N.F.L. record for longest completion in history. Unfortunately, the statistics from exhibition games are not included in the permanent N.F.L. record annals. The record is currently shared by nine individuals, including the Packers’ Robert Brooks (Sept. 11, 1995).
Bart Starr was voted MVP of the game as he completed 15 of 18 passes for 259 yards. The Browns' Frank Ryan completed 18 0f 28 for 310 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort. Green Bay opened the scoring on a first quarter 18 yard pass play from Starr the Ron Kramer. Then came Moore's incredible reception. Starting from their own one after holding the Browns out of the end zone, Starr hit Moore at the 19 and he raced the length of the field for the touchdown. The Packers never looked back from that moment and coasted to an easy victory. Cleveland managed to keep it close in the first half on a Lou Groza field goal and a 5 yard touchdown run by Ernie Green. But Max McGee (15 yard pass from Starr) and Jim Taylor (one yard run) each scored in the second period to make the score 28-10 at the half.
The second half belonged to the Packers defense. The held Cleveland's star running back, Jim Brown, to 56 yards on 11 carries. The Packers got second half scores on a one yard Moore run, a Jerry Kramer field goal and a sack of Frank Ryan in the end zone for a safety. Ryan had a pair of second half touchdown passes, 20 yards to Rich Kreitling and 25 yards to Bob Crespino. The final was 40-23.
Anticipation was high for the 1964 season for another showdown between the Packers and Bears. But, it would by Ryan and the Cleveland Browns who would win the NFL title 11 months later.
Jim Brown tries the Packers' line during first quarter goal line stand.
Cleveland's John Wooten (60) takes out Green Bay's Henry Urban as Ernie Green (48) scoots by for first down.
Winner Starr Plays It “Safe”
By TOMMY FITSGERALD
Miami News Sports Writer
MIAMI — At one time, it would have sounded like recommending cyanide as a health drink, but Bart Starr yesterday acclaimed passing from your end zone with the ball on your one-yard line about as safe a play as there is in football. Well, at least, as he put it, “not very precarious.”
This once-regarded invitation to suicide in this sophisticated era of football brought a record 99 yard first quarter touchdown in the fourth annual Pro Playoff Bowl yesterday afternoon in the Orange Bowl. It was the completion of the early turning point in Green Bay's 40-23 conquest of Cleveland in the post-season spectacle between the National Football League's divisional runners-up. “What have you got to lose?” said Starr. The Green Bay quarterback threw for a record three touchdowns and was voted the standing player in the game. “If there's too much of a rush you can throw intentionally the ground. You're already on the one- so how far can penalize you?”
Green Bay had scored first from the opening kickoff and then stopped a Cleveland drive on its one-yard line. On the first play after taking the ball on downs on his one, Starr passed to halfback Tom Moore out to the left and he shot down the sideline unmolested to score. The score, counting Kramer’s two extra points, was then 14-0 in favor of Green Bay with still 1:36 left in the first quarter. This goal line stand immediately followed by this 99 yard touchdown was a difference of 14 points. Green Bay led instead of being tied 7-7 and had the firm upper hand then on.
Records fell with the frequency and rapidity of the clattering, marching feet of the Florida A&M band at halftime on this cloudy, somber, sluggish afternoon. A new attendance record for the event — a mob of fans exceeding last year's congregation by 18,837 — was set. Also, a new absence record with a complete absence of defense except far that classic, head-turning picketing by Green Bay at its goal in that first period.
“We don't often call that play.” Starr said. “It depends on the situation. I thought it would work. I faked a handoff to Taylor into the line and threw to Moore running to the left.” “I just froze,” confessed Cleveland right safety Ross Fitchner, who neglected to cover Moore. “I got stuck by that fake handoff and didn't get out fast enough to cover.” He said it was virtually a duplication of the play on which Washington scored on a 99-yard pass against Cleveland during the season — proving, it appears, that Cleveland's greatest weakness is against 99-yard passes. “Both started with fake hand-offs, only George Izo passed to flanker back Mitchell for the Washington score and Starr threw to a halfback today.''
About every known Pro Playoff Bowl record was broken as the Western Division — never beaten — made it four straight over the Eastern Division, Detroit having won the previous three games for the West.
Among the new records set are:
• Touchdown passes (3) by Starr. He completed 15 of 18 passes for 259 yards — another game record. Cleveland's Frank Ryan, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 310 also broke the old mark (249) for yards gained passing.
• Most points scored in game- by one team (40) and both teams (63).
• Most yards gained rushing — by Green Bay (231)
• Most total yards gained — by both Green Bay (490) and Cleveland (418).
A number of other marks were tied or passed. In fact, the record book for this affair was practically rewritten.
The 28-10 first half was almost uninterrupted offense. Except for that stoppage of Cleveland on the Green Bay one and the halting of a Cleveland drive by the clock that ended the half, every time either side had the ball in the first half, it scored- either a touchdown or a field goal. Neither side punted the first half (in fact there were only three punts in the whole game), nobody gave up the ball on a fumble, nobody had a pass intercepted — it was almost through traffic the whole half.
The touchdowns in the game went this way:
Starr passed 13 yards to Ron Kramer with 6:14 gone in the first quarter. The Green Bay touchdown climaxed a drive of 87 yards, including a 15-yard penalty, from the opening kick-off, featuring the running of Jimmy Taylor and Moore. J. Kramer's kick made it 7-0.
Starr passed 99 yards to Moore with 1:36 left in first quarter and J. Kramer kicked. Green Bay led 14-0.
Lou Groza kicked a 38-yard field goal for Cleveland with 1:08 gone in second quarter. It was then 14-3 Green Bay.
Starr passed to Max McGee from the 13 to top an 83-yard advance. J. Kramer kicked. Green Bay, 21-3.
Ryan passed Cleveland up the field most of 87 yards to the five and Ernie Green took it in from there. Groza’s kicked to make it 21-10.
Starr's passing and the running of Moore and Taylor moved the ball 71 yards to the two and Taylor banged over. J. Kramer kicked and the half ended 28-10 for Green Bay a minute and a half later.
An interception by Willie Wood and his runback of 36 yards to the Cleveland 19 set up Green Bay's score in the third quarter on fourth down. Moore scored from the two. J. Kramer kicked to make it 35-10.
J. Kramer's 8-yard field goal made it 38-10 early in the fourth.
In his fifth completion in five throws on a 69-yard advance, Ryan threw 20 yards to Rich Kreitling. Groza kicked. The Scoreboard: Green Bay 38-17.
Bernie Parrish, the University of Florida product, returned an interception 40 yards to the Green Bay 15 and, a couple of plays later, Ryan passed 25 yards to Bob Crespino. Gross's kick was blocked and it stayed 38-23.
Green Bay scored two points on a safely as Ryan was tackled in his end zone by Lionel Aldridge and Urban Henry.
GB- R. Kramer 18 yard pass from Starr (J. Kramer kick)
GB- Moore 99 yard pass from Starr (J. Kramer kick)
CLE- FG Groza 35
GB- McGee 15 yard pass from Starr (J. Kramer kick)
CLE- Green 5 run (Groza kick)
GB- Taylor 1 run (J. Kramer kick)
GB- Moore 1 run (J. Kramer kick)
GB- FG J. Kramer 8
CLE- Kreitling 20 yard pass from Ryan (Groza kick)
CLE- Crespino 25 yard pass from Ryan (Kick blocked)
GB- GB- Safety (Ryan tackled in endzone)
Source: The Playoff Bowl