The Bert Bell Bowl and the VP Debate

instant-replay-green-bay-diary-jerry-kramer-hardcover-cover-art-1One of the seminal books of my child hood – right up to 1971 and Ball Four– was Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay. Jerry Kramer was an all-star guard on the great Green Bay Packer teams of the ’60’s. On the many occasions that golden-boy Paul Hornung was injured or suspended for gambling, Kramer also kicked field goals.

Kramer played every season of Vince Lombardi’s run with the Packers. He wrote Instant Replay in 1968, it ends with the Ice Bowl game against Dallas, Kramer’s the guy who made the block that allowed Bart Starr score the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the wind chill at the time was -56.

Kramer’s description of the Ice Bowl is riveting … well, especially to a pre-teen who got to see maybe one NFL game every other week before the playoffs. What really struck me about the book though, was Kramer’s description of life in the game. He didn’t hold back – for a mainstream book in 1968, I suppose – in describing his injuries, some really gruesome, or Lombardi’s brand of intensity and sometimes nastiness, though even then, I realized it was the kind of nastiness a coach can get away with when the iplayer knows the guy really cares about him.

Kramer didn’t flinch from the brutality of the game, this might account for the fact he’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team not in the Hall of Fame. He also didn’t hold back from describing some of the more ridiculous aspects of the NFL.

One such inanity was the Playoff Bowl. Between 1961 through 1970 the division championship game losers met in the Orange Bowl to decide who would finish 3rd.The game was, unsurprisingly, loathed by the players – except when they got to play the perennial runner-up Dallas Cowboys, they were that hated by the rest of the league.

The game really didn’t have an official name, Third Place Bowl was too depressing, Playoff Bowl wasn’t used because, logically enough, the teams playing it were, in fact, already out of the playoffs. Some referred to it as the Bert Bell Bowl, after the former commissioner of the NFL. Lombardi called it the Shit Bowl.

playoffbowl-e1450633792223Kramer didn’t skimp on describing one of the Packers two ventures into the Shit Bowl. He skipped their win in 1963 but vividly described their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (ask your grandfather) in 1964. Well, vivid to a ten-year old – Kramer described the huddle as reeking with stale alcohol and staler vomit.  Players were either hung over or still somewhat drunk, no one cared, least of all Lombardi who just wanted out of Miami (he said it was a “hinky­dink football game, held in a hinky­dink town, played by hinky­dink players.”)

Naturally, I thought of the Kramer and his description of the Shit Bowl when my youngest asked me if I was going to watch the Vice Presidential Debate. I don’t know if I ever saw a Playoff Bowl game, but I did see the Bentsen-Quayle ‘debate’ and experienced the Jack Kennedy moment first hand. I was in a bar in Manhattan after rugby practice, the place erupted. And that was it. Everyone remembers that 20 seconds and nothing else. The exchange effected the election as much as the Playoff Bowl effected the NFL Championship game – not at all.

images-1The Playoff Bowl occurred in what’s considered almost the primitive days of the NFL. The Bentsen-Quayle debate occured in the primitive days of cable TV news. The news wasn’t really a 24/7 thing then, many people first read about the debate in newspapers.

Mostly, though, no one had been subjected to weeks of appearances by campaign ‘surrogates’ on news shows hour after hour after hour to regurgitate and spin and regurgitate the spin for their bosses.

The VP debate isn’t a debate between two governors, it’s a debate between two more surrogates. We have as much chance hearing something different, or hearing their own opinions on anything, as the winner of the Playoff Bowl did being invited to play the NFL champs.

And, barring an otherwise memorable but ultimately impotent soundbite, VP Debate’s share the fate of the ten years of Playoff Bowl games – the NFL erased them from history years ago. That’s right, according to the NFL, they never happened. The outcomes, stats, everything, no longer officially exist.

So instead of wasting ninety minutes of my life with Hillary/Trump stand-ins I’m going to catch dial up a movie from the late ’60s. Maybe something with a Dandy Don Meredith cameo.

 

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