From the birth of the NFL in 1920 to 1932 league titles were awarded to the team with the best winning percentage with ties not counted. In 1932 the Portsmouth Spartans (who became the Detroit Lions in 1934) and the Chicago Bears tied for first with 6-1 records plus both teams tied each other twice during the regular season. The championship was decided by an extra game that ultimately had to be played indoors at the Chicago Stadium due to weather conditions.

Due to the success of the 1932 playoff game, the team owners met and voted on some rule changes:
  • The ten team league was split into an Eastern and Western division with both meeting at seasons end in a Championship Game
  • To increase the number of field goals and decrease the number of tie games, the goal posts were moved from the back of the end zones to the goal lines.
  • And as the most influential change, forward passes were allowed from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage instead of a passer needing to be five yards back before he could throw.
With these changes in place the 1933 season brought the game a giant step closer towards the style we enjoy today with a championship game finishing the season. The importance of the league championship game changed after the 1970 AFL/NFL merger but up to then there were some hard-fought, historic games played to crown each season’s champion.

Since they’re all distinctive classics it would be an impossible task to rank these in order of game quality and importance so, presented by date here are the stories of the ten best League Championship Games from 1933 to 1970.

December 17, 1933 - Wrigley Field, Chicago
Chicago Bears 23 - NY Giants 21

An estimated crowd of 26,000 fans came out to watch the 11-3 Eastern Division Champion New York Giants face the 10-2-1 Western Division Champion Chicago Bears. The teams split their two meetings during the season, each winning at home.

The Bears opened the scoring with two field goals in the first and second quarters by “Automatic” Jack Manders to take a 6-0 lead. The Giants responded before the end of the half with a 29 yard touchdown pass from tailback Harry Newman to Red Badgro to go up 7-6.

In the third quarter with the Bears leading 9-7, the Giants’ Max Krause scored on a one-yard run to retake the lead 14-9. The Bears answered with a 92-yard drive behind the punishing running of Bronko Nagurski. With the Bears down to the Giants’ eight-yard line they took advantage of the new passing rule. Nagurski took another handoff but just before diving into the line he jumped and completed an eight yard touchdown pass to Bill Karr for a 16-14 Bears’ lead. In the fourth quarter the Giants drove to the Chicago eight yard line and then pulled a trick play of their own as Ken Strong took a handoff, faked a reverse, lateraled the ball back to Newman who passed back to Strong in the end zone for the touchdown and a 21-16 lead.

The Bears followed by driving to the New York 36 yard line. On the next play Nagurski took the handoff and jumped again, completing a pass to Bill Hewitt. As the Giants’ defenders converged on Hewitt he lateraled to Karr who covered the final 25 yards for the touchdown and a 23-21 lead with less than two minutes to play. On the Giants’ final possession they drove to their own 40-yard line when Red Grange secured the victory for the Bears on the game’s final play, wrapping up Red Badgro by the arms before he could lateral the ball away.

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame each member of the Bears earned $210.34 for winning the championship while each Giants’ player received $140.22. In a story the following day, the Associated Press described it as "probably the most spectacular game of the year" and "a brilliant display of offensive power".

December 9, 1934 - Polo Grounds, New York
NY Giants 30 - Chicago Bears 13

The rematch of 1933’s championship game ranks No. 8 on NFL Films list of bad weather games and is known as “The Sneakers Game”.

The Bears had built on their previous season’s success by going 13-0 and were riding an 18 game win streak into the game against the 8-5 New York Giants. Freezing rain the previous night left the Polo Grounds turf a sheet of ice that cleats didn’t have much effect on.

Giants’ end Ray Flaherty mentioned to head coach Steve Owen that he had played a game in college under similar conditions. The team had switched from cleats to sneakers to get better footing. The Giants searched but couldn’t find a sporting goods store open in Manhattan on Sunday so Owen sent assistant equipment manager Abe Cohen to Manhattan College to see if he could get basketball shoes since Cohen also worked there.

In the meantime the Bears used their size advantage against the Giants to push them around on the icy field and establish a 10-3 lead on a field goal and a Bronko Nagurski touchdown run. The Bears increased that lead to 13-3 in the third quarter before Cohen arrived with nine pairs of sneakers he obtained after using a hammer to break into Manhattan College’s locker room.

Giants’ players changed shoes and suddenly could cut and maneuver around the slipping and sliding Bears. Ed Danowski threw a pass to Ike Frankian that the Bears intercepted on the two yard line but Frankian stole the ball away for a touchdown as the Bears’ defender slipped to the turf.

Running back Ken Strong broke free on the Giants’ next possession for a 42 yard touchdown run and later scored on an 11 yard run. Danowski finished the Giants’ 27 point fourth quarter with a nine yard touchdown of his own. The Bears’ unbeaten streak was finished and the New York Giants had their first title under the new playoff system.

December 8, 1940 - Griffith Stadium, Washington
Chicago Bears 73 – Washington Redskins 0

The 8-3 Chicago Bears were in a foul mood as they prepared to play the Washington Redskins for the NFL title. Three weeks earlier the Bears lost to the Redskins 7-3 in Griffith Stadium and head coach George Halas had been enraged by a non-interference call in the end zone on the game’s final play. After the Redskins 7-3 victory, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall called the Bears crybabies, quitters and front-runners who folded when the going got tough.

Halas made sure the comments were highlighted and posted in the locker room for all to see. Then he brought in Clark Shaughnessy, who had worked with Halas on their T-formation playbook and who had just finished his first year as head coach of Stanford. Together they worked on counters to linebacker shifts the Redskins had used in the earlier game.

As the team traveled to Washington Quarterback Sid Luckman said, “Our biggest fear was we were over-prepared. On the train, what happened was the boys would play bridge or cards and joke and laugh. This time, you could have heard a pin drop. We were studying our playbooks.”

A sold-out stadium of 36,034 fans packed the stands and for the first time, the game was being broadcast nationwide on radio. After the first play Halas said later, “I was delighted. Our adjusted plays could go time and time again through the weaknesses we had detected in the Washington defense.”

On the Bears’ second play from scrimmage Bill Osmanski swept around the left end for a 68 yard touchdown run made possible by a crushing block thrown by George Wilson that took out two Redskin players who were about to push Osmanski out of bounds.

On the Redskins first possession Sammy Baugh drove the offense into Bears’ territory and on a third down play, threw a perfect pass into the arms of Charley Malone at the four yard line that he dropped. From then on, the game belonged to the Bears.

They led 28-0 at halftime when Halas pulled his starters but the Bears continued to pile up points. The Redskins finished with three yards rushing for the game. 10 different Bears scored 11 touchdowns. They only passed 10 times the entire game. On defense they intercepted eight passes and returned three for touchdowns.

As the game went on, the crowd began to chant sarcastically with the public address announcer when he called out, “Artoe will kick off for the Bears,” every time Lee Artoe teed the ball up after another score. Late in the game, with so many extra points kicked into the crowd, the referee came over to Halas on the bench and asked if the Bears would either run or pass for the extra point. They were down to their last football.

After the game, Baugh was asked if the dropped pass by Malone might have made a difference. Baugh replied, “Yes, it would have been 73-7.”

December 24, 1950 - Municipal Stadium, Cleveland
Cleveland Browns 30 – Los Angeles Rams 28

The NFL merged with the All-American Football Conference before the beginning of the 1950 season. The Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts joined the NFL and the league started the season with 13 teams. The Browns had won all four AAFC Championships so the NFL scheduled their opening game against the two-time defending champion Eagles, in Philadelphia. The NFL owners wanted to show fans that the Browns may have been a dominant team, but in a minor league.

The Eagles had finished the 1949 season with an 11-1 record and won their second straight title but the Browns were determined to show they belonged in the NFL. They crushed the Eagles in the opener 35-10.

The Rams were back in Cleveland to play for the first time since they were the Cleveland Rams and won the 1945 NFL title before moving to Los Angeles for the 1946 season.

27 seconds into the game, Rams’ quarterback Bob Waterfield connected with Glenn Davis on an 82 yard touchdown pass and extended the lead to 14-0 before Cleveland came back with Otto Graham throwing a pair of touchdown passes. After their second extra point failed the Rams led 14-13 at the half.

Cleveland opened the scoring in the second half on Otto Graham’s third touchdown pass of the game, his second straight to Dante Lavelli for a 20-14 lead. Fullback Dick Hoerner of the Rams scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to put the Rams back in front 21-20. Later in the quarter, defensive end Larry Brink recovered a Cleveland fumble and returned it six yards for another touchdown and a 28-20 Rams’ lead to end the third quarter.

With 28 seconds left in the game and the score 28-27, Lou “The Toe” Groza lined up and kicked a 16-yard field goal with 28 seconds left to give the Cleveland Browns their first NFL Championship in their first year in the league.

December 27, 1953 - Briggs Stadium, Detroit
Detroit Lions 17 – Cleveland Browns 16

The Detroit Lions finished the season with a 10-2 record and were facing the 11-1 Browns for the championship for the second straight year. They had defeated the Browns 17-7 for the 1952 NFL Championship. This was the Browns fourth straight title game appearance.
Early in the game, Detroit tight end Leon Hart wrenched his knee and limped off the field. Defensive end Jim Doran was the team’s emergency tight end and took over at the position. Doran spent all game repeatedly telling Bobby Layne that he could get behind Browns cornerback Warren Lahr. Doran and Lahr were trash talking with each other the entire game. Layne kept nodding and saying, “Not yet.”
At the start of the fourth quarter the game was tied 10-10 before Lou Groza kicked two field goals to give the Browns a 16-10 lead. The Lions began their final drive on their 20 yard line with Layne completing a 17-yard pass to Doran. On the Browns 33-yard line and less than three minutes to play Layne looked at Doran in the huddle and asked, “Can you still beat that feller?” Doran replied, “Just throw it. I’ll beat him.”
At the snap, Doran faked a block and ran past Lahr. Layne launched one of his trademark wobbly passes and connected Doran for the 33-yard touchdown and a 17-16 lead with 2:08 left. After the kick-off and less than two minutes to play, Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham dropped back to pass and was intercepted by rookie Carl Karilivacz to end the game and give Detroit their second straight NFL Title.
December 28, 1958 - Yankee Stadium, New York
Baltimore Colts 23 – New York Giants 17
The 1958 NFL Championship Game was called “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. It featured 17 future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was televised across the nation on NBC.
The game was hard fought but very sloppy at the start with both teams trading turnovers. Late in the first quarter with the ball on the Colts’ 30 yard line, Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly dropped back and threw to a wide open Alex Webster who slipped and the pass dropped incomplete. Pat Summerall came in to kick a 36 yard field goal and the Giants were ahead 3-0.
In the second quarter Baltimore defensive end Ray Krouse recovered a Frank Gifford fumble and the Colts took advantage with a two yard touchdown run by Alan Ameche. On their next drive New York recovered a fumbled punt by the Colts’ Jackie Simpson on the Colts 10 but a couple of plays later Gifford fumbled again and lineman Don Joyce recovered at the 14. The Colts drove 86 yards in 15 plays capping the drive with a 15 yard touchdown pass to Raymond Berry and giving the Colts a 14-3 lead at the half.
Early in the third quarter Baltimore drove to the Giants’ one yard line but Ameche was stopped for no gain on third down. On fourth down Ameche was on a halfback option play and tackled at the 5 by linebacker Cliff Livingston.
The Giants took possession and drove 95 yards in four plays, the big play being an 86 yard pass from Conerly to Kyle Rote who cut across the middle, broke a tackle at midfield and fumbled at the Colts 25 after being hit. Alex Webster was trailing the play, picked the ball up and ran it to the one where he was knocked out of bounds. The Giants scored on Mel Triplett’s 1-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-10.
Early in the fourth quarter the Giants took the lead on a 15 yard touchdown pass from Conerly to Gifford. During the action in the fourth quarter, Baltimore defensive lineman Gino Marchetti broke his leg but refused to go to the hospital. He watched the remainder of the game from the sideline.
On fourth and inches on their own 40 yard line, the Giants punted with a bit over two minutes left in the game and the Colts took over on their 14 yard line down 17-14. After two incompletions Unitas connected with Lenny Moore for 11 yards on third down. After one more incompletion he connected with Berry on three consecutive passes to the Giants 13 yard line. Steve Myhra kicked the field goal and the game was tied.
At that point, the players didn’t know if the game continued or not. Unitas later said that, “When the game ended in a tie we were standing on the sidelines waiting to see what came next. All of a sudden, the officials came over and said, ‘Send the captain out. We’re going to flip a coin to see who will receive.’ That was the first we heard of the overtime period.” The Giants won the toss and the referee informed each team that the first to score in any fashion would win the game.
The Giants went three-and-out and punted on their series. Unitas started on the Colts’ 20 and drove 80 yards with both Ameche and Berry contributing big plays. On the 13th play of the drive, Fullback Alan Ameche punched the ball through a wide open line for a one yard touchdown run and a 23-17 victory.

December 26, 1960 - Franklin Field, Philadelphia
Philadelphia Eagles 17 – Green Bay Packers 13
The Eagles finished the season at 10-2 and the Packers were 8-4. Neither team had played for a championship in over a decade. The Packers were favored but everyone in Philadelphia was happier that they weren’t facing the Colts, who had won the NFL Championship in 1958 and 1959. So the game wouldn’t conflict with Christmas, it was moved to Monday with a noon kickoff.
On the first play, a Norm Van Brocklin pass was intercepted by Bill Quinlan of the Packers at the Eagles 14-yard line but they couldn’t score. Chuck Bednarik brought down Jim Taylor on fourth down at the five. Bednarik was 35 years old and in the 12th year of his Hall of Fame career as a center on offense and linebacker on defense. The Eagles fumbled on their next possession and the Packers recovered at the Eagles’ 22 but could only convert that into a field goal.
In the second quarter Van Brocklin, who was playing the final game of his Hall of Fame career, connected on a 35-yard pass to Tommy McDonald for a 7-6 lead. The Eagles led 10-6 at the half after Paul Hornung missed a field goal.
In the fourth quarter Max McGee picked up 35 yards on a fake punt then caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to put the Packers up 13-10. On the Packers’ kickoff, Ted Dean returned it 58 yards and a bit later in the drive scored from 5 yards out to put the Eagles back in front 17-13.

Green Bay began its final drive with 1:20 to go. The Packers drove to the Eagles’ 22 and were out of timeouts. On the final play of the game Bart Starr swung a pass out to Jim Taylor who broke two tackles but couldn’t break the bear hug of Bednarik who hit him high instead of low and brought him down at the 10 yard line.

Bednarik held him down as the last seconds ticked away to prevent the Packers from running another play. When time ran out Bednarik said, “You can get up now Taylor, this damn game’s over.”

December 23, 1962 - Jeppesen Stadium, Houston
Dallas Texans 20 – Houston Oilers 17

The Eastern Division Champion Houston Oilers with a record of 11-3 were in the AFC Championship Game for their third straight year. The Dallas Texans also finished 11-3 and were making their first Championship Game appearance. Both teams had won on the other’s home field during the season. In their third match-up they would play a game that is still the longest championship game in pro football history.

Dallas dominated early. Twice Houston quarterback George Blanda was intercepted in the first half and both led to Dallas scores. Leading 3-0, Dallas quarterback Len Dawson hit halfback Abner Haynes, who had lined up in the slot, for a 28 yard touchdown pass. Near the end of the quarter Haynes ran the ball in from two yards out and the Texans were leading 17-0 at halftime.

On the Oilers’ first possession of the third quarter Blanda began moving the Oilers downfield and completed the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Willard Dewveall for their first score of the game. Dallas turned to their running game in the second half to run as much clock as possible and also keep Houston’s offense off the field but they couldn’t sustain a scoring drive.

In the fourth quarter Blanda kicked a field goal to make the score 17-10 then on their next drive fullback Charlie Tolar crashed into the end zone from one yard out and the score was tied at 17. Houston had one more shot to win the game with time running down but the 42-yard field goal attempt by Blanda was blocked to send the game into overtime.

On the Dallas sideline, Hank Stram told team captain Abner Haynes that Dallas wanted the strong wind at their back if he won the coin toss. Haynes won the toss and told the referee that Dallas wanted to “kick to the clock”. Right away he knew the mistake he’d made but it was too late to change it. By saying “kick” first, Dallas would kick to Houston who would have the wind at their backs to begin overtime.

Fortunately for Haynes, who was an All-Pro running back, he didn’t end up being remembered for costing Dallas the game. The first overtime was a defensive struggle and ended scoreless. In the second overtime defensive end Bill Hull intercepted a Blanda pass at the Oilers’ 48. Five plays later Tommy Brooker kicked a 25-yard field goal to win the game for Dallas and end Houston’s two year championship run 20-17.

After the season Lamar Hunt decided that even though the Texans were drawing well in Dallas, they still had to fight for attention with the NFL Cowboys. In May of 1963 he moved the team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs.

December 31, 1967 - Lambeau Field, Green Bay
Green Bay Packers 21 – Dallas Cowboys 17

The Cowboys traveled to Green Bay in a rematch of the previous year’s championship game played at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas that the Packers won 34-27. The Packers held off a late rally by the young Cowboys team when Green Bay’s Tom Brown intercepted Don Meredith in the end zone to end the game.

The day before the rematch, Green Bay enjoyed a high temperature of 20 degrees. The forecast called for a cold front but everyone thought the game could be played before it hit. The front moved in faster than expected though and when everyone woke up the next morning the temperature was -13 degrees with wind chills in the -30’s. As the referee blew his whistle to start play the metal froze to his lip. After that, the officials tossed the whistles aside and worked the game with voice calls and hand signals.

The Packers struck quick with Bart Starr connecting with Boyd Dowler for two touchdown passes on their first two drives but the Packers’ offense began to stall as the Dallas defense started coming to life. In the second quarter Bart Starr was sacked by defensive end Willie Townes and fumbled. George Andrie of the Cowboys recovered and returned it 17 yards for the Cowboys’ first touchdown.

Later, near the end of the half, Willie Wood fumbled a Dallas punt which was recovered by Dallas on the Green Bay 17 and resulted in a field goal that cut the Packers’ lead to 14-10 at the half.

On the first play of the fourth quarter Dan Reeves took a handoff from Meredith and threw a 50 yard touchdown pass to Lance Rentzal to put the Cowboys ahead 17-14.

With 4:50 left, the Packers started their final drive on their own 32 yard line and drove down to the Dallas one. Starr handed off to Donny Anderson twice for no gain. On the second carry Anderson lost his footing as he reached the line. With 16 seconds left, Starr called the Packers’ final timeout and went over to discuss the next play with Vince Lombardi. Neither wanted any part of overtime so kicking a field goal would not be an option.

Starr called for a handoff to fullback Chuck Mercein who would crash the line behind center Ken Bowman and guard Jerry Kramer. But Starr didn’t trust the footing for a handoff play and as Bowman and Kramer fired out on Jethro Pugh he dove over the goal line himself for the winning touchdown. Two weeks later, on a 60 degree day in Miami, the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II 33-14.

December 29, 1968 - Shea Stadium, New York
New York Jets 27 – Oakland Raiders 23

It was a cold, windy day in New York when the Jets and Raiders took the field to see which one would be the AFL representative in Super Bowl III. Six weeks earlier the Jets were in Oakland and leading 32-29 with one minute left in the game when, at 7pm, NBC cut to their scheduled showing of the movie “Heidi”. Only fans on the west coast saw Oakland score two touchdowns in the last minute to win 43-32.

On their first drive, the Jets took the lead on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Joe Namath to Don Maynard. After a Jets field goal at the end of the first quarter, Daryle Lamonica drove the Raiders 80 yards, finishing with a 29 yard touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff. The teams then traded field goals and the first half ended with the Jets ahead 13-10.

The Raiders opened the third quarter by driving into Jets’ territory for a George Blanda field goal to tie the game at 13. Namath responded with an 80 yard drive that finished with a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pete Lammons and the Jets were up again 20-13.

Blanda kicked another field goal and on the first play of the Jets’ next drive cornerback George Atkinson intercepted Namath and returned it 32-yards to the 5-yard line. Pete Banaszak scored on the next play and the Raiders were ahead 23-20 with eight minutes left. Namath came right back out throwing and completed three passes, one of them a long bomb to Maynard and then a 6-yard pass that Maynard caught while falling into the end zone to give the Jets the lead back 27-23.

Two drives later, Lamonica had the Raiders down to the New York 12 yard line with 2:20 left. On the next play, Lamonica dropped back, turned and tossed a swing pass that sailed behind running back Charlie Smith. Lamonica was the only Raider player to realize he had accidently thrown a lateral. Lamonica went after the bouncing ball but the Jets reacted quickly and linebacker Ralph Baker picked it up to end the Raiders’ last scoring chance.

The game ended with the Jets winning 27-23 to earn a trip to Super Bowl III where they upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 16-7.