The NFL Used to Play a Third-Place Game, a "Losers' Bowl for Losers"
Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images (1963)
If coming in second place just makes you the first loser, what can be said about a team that finishes in third? Well, for ten seasons (1960-69) of NFL football, they’d call you the winner of the Playoff Bowl.
Officially named the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl after a league commissioner who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1959, it was played the week after the NFL Championship game (except for the 1969 game, which took place the day before) at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The participants were the second-place teams of the NFL’s Eastern and Western conferences.
The Playoff Bowl gave the fans another dose of playoff action and raised over a million dollars for the Bert Bell players' pension fund, but it was not without its critics. Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi referred to it as "the Shit Bowl" and called it "a losers' bowl for losers." Lombardi went on to say the Playoff Bowl was “a hinky-dink football game, held in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players. That's all second place is – hinky dink."
Even those who came out on the winning side had their complaints. Roger Brown, who won all five Playoff Bowls he played in, called his participation “pitiful.“
It took some time, but the NFL eventually came to agree. In 1970, when the merger with the AFL was complete, the league decided to discontinue the Playoff Bowl. Further distancing itself from the “losers' bowl for losers” (and also the pensions of retired players), the NFL only recognizes the Playoff Bowl as an exhibition game—making the official title of third place nothing more than "best case scenario" for the New York Jets.
Playoff Bowl Winners
Results courtesy of Wikipedia