[Editor's Note: I have a new ESPN column today — a round-up of the latest MLB uni news. Meanwhile, this is a special day, because intern Mike Chamernik, who's been doing a great job with the Thursday Tickers, wrote today's lead entry and the Ticker. Please join me in congratulating him on his first proper Uni Watch byline. — PL]
By Mike Chamernik
One thing that distinguishes pro sports from amateur sports is the absence of third place. You have the title winner, the title loser, and, essentially, everyone else. Third-place games and consolation brackets are for Little League baseball and rec league basketball, not for the pros.
Except, that is, for the NFL from 1960 to 1969. That decade featured something called the Playoff Bowl (also known as the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, the Runner-Up Bowl, the Pro Play-Off Classic, and the Nothing Bowl), an annual game for third place that was played at Miami’s Orange Bowl. During the NFL Championship era, it pitted the second-place finishers in the Eastern and Western Conferences, and during the Super Bowl era the two first-round playoff losers from the NFL side faced each other.
Some of you may already have known about the Playoff Bowl, but I just found out about it and was quickly intrigued. Here’s a quick primer:
What was at stake?
Not much. Aside from third place, each member of the winning team would receive between $600 (in the early years) and $1,200 (later years). Each player on the losing team would get between $400 (early years) and $500 (later on). The rest of the money generated went into the Bert Bell players’ pension fund. Charmingly, it seems the players were paid in cash right after the game.
So it was called the Playoff Bowl, but was this game truly a playoff game?
What did people think of the game?
Did the league undermine the importance of the game?
Yes. For the 1965-66 bowl, the league instituted a rule: If two teams tied for second place in their division, the team that never had been to the Playoff Bowl got the invite. (If both teams hadn’t been there, there would be a performance-based tiebreaker.) Could you imagine an arbitrary rule like that being accepted today?
Which teams thrived in the Playoff Bowl?
Fittingly, the Lions won the first three Playoff Bowls. Maybe even more fittingly, the Browns lost in their only three appearances.
What does this have to do with Uni Watch?
Unfortunately, there were no special patches. But here’s something uni-notable: The Steelers’ modern black helmet made its on-field debut in the 1963 Playoff Bowl. And third-string Colts quarterback Tom Matte, who usually played running back, ran the team’s offense in the 1966 game, providing a rare glimpse of a signal-caller wearing No. 41. (Okay, so Matte had also done this in a regular season game and a playoff game, but it’s still a pretty unusual sight.) Also, the league’s now-ubiquitous slingshot-style goalposts — then called “Tele-Goal” — debuted in the 1967 game. (For further info, look here, here, and here.)
If you want to see photos, the AP has a few images from the games. For a complete breakdown of each game with game photos and program and cartoon artwork, go to Bolding Sports Research’s wonderful section devoted to the Playoff Bowl. And if you want to see all the uniforms worn in the Playoff Bowl, our friends at the Gridiron Uniform Database have that covered.
Baseball News: When Joe DiMaggio was in the Army from 1943 to 1945, first baseman Nick Etten wore No. 5 for the Yankees (good stuff, Steve Dodell). … The University of New Orleans will have new blue alternate jerseys this season (from Chris Mycoskie). … The Madison Mallards, a college summer league team, are letting fans vote for their alternate jersey. The uniforms were designed by middle school students, and, well, they look like they were designed by middle school students. I do dig this one, though (from Jeff Ash). … “It looks like the Tigers are using two different versions of the Old English D on their new BP jerseys,” says Thomas Juettner. “They have the traditional cap logo on the ‘home’ version and the traditional jersey logo on ‘away’ version. That doesn’t make any sense because the only time the “D” appears on the uniforms, it’s been on the home jersey.”
NFL News: The “Thomas” “Foote” NOB from yesterday reminded Steven Zerhusen to send in this pic he snapped earlier this year of Desmond Bryant next to Bryant McKinnie. … Brinke sends in some fun facts about the new Niners stadium and EarthCam footage of it being built. … Josh Youstra’s girlfriend went to Mexico and brought back a Chicago Bears tribal mask. … Chris Flinn found a Jay Cutler trading card with a game-worn swatch of his jersey and it’s predominantly a section of his laundry tag. … To honor the Seahawks, the Globetrotters will wear No. 12 jerseys when they play in the Seattle area this weekend.
Soccer News: A graphic designer is creating neat, detailed postcards for every Liverpool match (from Patrick Walsh). … The Seattle Sounders will have a 40th anniversary patch. This incarnation of the team is only a little over six years old; the patch pays tribute to the Sounders of the NASL (from Markus Kamp). … Is this the name, logo and uniform for David Beckham’s Miami MLS team? If so, they’re not bad (from David Thomas).
NBA News: Mitchell & Ness will soon be selling limited edition Michael Jordan jerseys. … Even with a commissioner change earlier this month, the NBA is no closer to ads on jerseys (from Phil). … The Knicks hosted the Garden of Dreams Foundation Bowling event Monday night and had some sweet bowling shirts for the occasion (from Steve Dodell).
College Hoops News: George Washington has inconsistent coloring in the A10 wordmark on the back of the neck of its away uniforms (from Charles Pannunzio).
Olympics News: Here’s an infograph featuring all the modern Olympic mascots (from Brinke). … A Toronto artist created some far-out helmet designs for skeleton racers (from Roch Smith). … “Early luge helmets looked like coneheads,” says Christopher LaHaye. Other photos from the first 12 Winter Olympics are here. … A Columbus company coated Olympic bobsleds with super-thin paint typically used on race cars and jets (from Jay Hill).
Grab Bag: Paul and Uni Watch got a mention in John Hodgman’s podcast. Fast forward to minute 16 (from William Blevins). … Here’s an oral history on the Costacos Brothers and how they dominated the poster scene in the 1980s and 1990s (from Chris Flinn). … “The Carlton Blues are selling spaces on a jumper to be worn in round 10 vs. the Crows for $350 (AU) each name,” says Leo Strawn Jr. “Names of all of the Blues throughout the club’s history will be on the back.” … Josh Youstra found a badly printed Blackhawks shirt that was still for sale. … Yesterday we saw a hoop trophy, today we see a wheel trophy. That was awarded to Australia’s Jayco Herald Sun Tour winner Simon Clarke last weekend (from Matt Dowell). … Barbie will be in the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (from Tom Mulgrew). … Israelis and Palestinians can even find a way to argue over the logo on a piece of stationery. … A town in Wisconsin has rejected a proposal that would have restricted alcohol and tobacco advertising. Key quote: “[Local tavern owner Bill] Hamre noted that his business has sponsored several youth sports teams, including providing uniforms emblazoned with the name of his business. ‘I don’t think those kids started drinking because their shirt said “Willie’s Bar” on it,’ he said.” … The factories manufacturing U.S. military logo clothing are often sweatshops. … A design student created a font based on an optical illusion (thanks, Robert Silverman). … “I was watching the Westminster Dog Show last night,” says Casey B, “and the judge for the terrier group was wearing a totally badass cummerbund.”