Memphis Mad Dogs
|Memphis Mad Dogs|
|Based in||Memphis, Tennessee, United States|
|Home field||Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium|
|League||Canadian Football League|
|Colours||Forest green, gold, maroon, black, and white
|Head coach||Pepper Rodgers|
Prior to the Mad Dogs, Fred Smith was part of an ownership group (along with such entities as former Memphis Showboats owner William Dunavant and the estate of Elvis Presley) that tried to get a National Football League team into Memphis in 1993. The Memphis Hound Dogs, as the proposed team was to be called, was one of five teams to be considered, but was passed over in favor of the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Smith, after briefly considering a proposed "new league" backed by CBS, then turned to the CFL to launch the franchise, and with Presley's estate no longer involved, the team's name was changed from the "Hound Dogs" to the "Mad Dogs."
On the field
The Mad Dogs hired Pepper Rodgers as their head coach, who was familiar to Memphis pro football fans as he was the head coach of one of the city's previous pro football teams, the Memphis Showboats of the USFL; the Mad Dogs had also hired Steve Erhart, the Showboats' general manager, in the same capacity, and even hired one of the Showboats' backup quarterbacks (Mike Kelley, who had been mostly out of work since the USFL's failure). In many ways, building the Mad Dogs as a continuation of the Showboats was an attempt to emulate the Sacramento Gold Miners, who had built on the previously successful Sacramento Surge. Rodgers, a Memphis native, also had previous coaching experience with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the UCLA Bruins at the university level. The team's mascot was a black Labrador retriever named Alien, who was known for charging the field and retrieving the kicking tee following each kickoff.
The Mad Dogs tried to copy Baltimore Stallions' blueprint by getting staff and players who had previous CFL experience. To be in accordance with the CFL blueprint for possible success, the Mad Dogs hired former CFL coach Adam Rita to become their new offensive coordinator. Rita was mostly known for coaching the Toronto Argonauts and the Edmonton Eskimos to Grey Cup championships in 1991 and 1993. The Mad Dogs then signed veteran QB Damon Allen, who won the Grey Cup with the Eskimos in 1987 and 1993 (with Adam Rita), earning Grey Cup MVP honors in both years. Other notable players on offense included Eddie Brown (SB), Joe Horn (WR) and former NFL kicker, Donald Igwebuike.
However, the offense was only able to score a total of 346 points, last in the CFL behind the Ottawa Rough Riders. On a positive note, the Mad Dogs were known for their strong defensive work that was rated second, behind Edmonton, in the CFL for giving up the least number of points with 364, due in large part to the strong defensive play of Tim Cofield and Rodney Harding. One of the reasons for poor offense and great defense was the size of the field which was narrower and shorter than all other CFL fields including those other US fields which were not regulation. The Liberty Bowl was forced to lay down astro turf to widen and lengthen the field which was odd with the natural grass in the middle.
Memphis ended the 1995 CFL season with a 9–9–0 regular season record, which placed them in fourth place of the Southern Division, causing them to miss the play-offs in their only season of existence in the CFL.
Off the field
Pepper Rodgers was known around the football world as a likable man. However, he often made uncomplimentary remarks about the Canadian Football League, which also showed signs that the CFL expansion plan to the United States was doomed to failure from the start.
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium was not as well suited to the Canadian game as most U.S. stadiums because the stands were very close to the field of play and the field was not even close to regulation length – the end zones were only nine yards long at the middle of the end zone and 7 yards at the sidelines instead (CFL rules dictate a 20-yard end zone and no other stadium had less than 15).
The team drew relatively well during the first two months of the season. While the crowds were not nearly as large as those the Showboats or Southmen had drawn, they were still comparable to those for the established CFL franchises. However, when college football season started in September, attendance levels fell through the floor due to many Memphians driving across Interstate 40 to watch Tennessee football or down Interstate 55 to watch Ole Miss. The CFL traditionally plays on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays--the same days as college football games. The Birmingham Barracudas faced the same problem. However, while the CFL tweaked the schedule so the Barracudas would not have to compete against Alabama and Auburn, it was not willing to do the same for the Mad Dogs. Several late season games drew crowds of fewer than 10,000, dropping the team's average attendance to around 14,550 by the end of the season. With such weak attendance figures, the CFL folded the Mad Dogs, along with most of the other American CFL franchises, after the 1995 season.
Tim Cofield became the only Mad Dogs player to win the James P. McCaffrey Trophy as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the South Division.
In the end
Because they had lost money and had low attendance, the Memphis Mad Dogs were forced to fold after the 1995 season, marking the end of the franchise and the CFL's unfortunate three years south of the border.
Another problem was the promotional efforts of the CFL itself. The league positioned itself directly against the NFL when it attempted to move south of the border. The CFL adopted the marketing slogan, "Longer, Wider, Faster" to appeal to the American football market. Rodgers had expressed frustration in the efforts to market the Mad Dogs and Canadian football to the Mid-South.
After the Mad Dogs
The city of Memphis would go on to host several more professional football franchises. The most notable was the Liberty Bowl's hosting of the Tennessee Oilers of the National Football League for the 1997 season. The plan was for the Oilers to play two full seasons in Memphis (which had the state's only stadium that was ideally sized for the NFL), which, if successful, could have set Memphis up to make another bid on the expansion franchise that was to be awarded in the wake of the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy (what eventually became the Houston Texans). However, like the Mad Dogs, the Oilers proved to be an attendance disaster in Memphis, with most games drawing not much more than the Mad Dogs had drawn and often drawing more opponents' fans than Oilers fans.
The Memphis Pharaohs played two seasons in the Arena Football League, their first concurrent with the Mad Dogs, in 1995 and 1996. In 2001, Memphis would host the XFL's Memphis Maniax and the AF2's Memphis Xplorers. The Xplorers would last for six seasons. Memphis would also have success in other professional sports, landing another Canadian export with the relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001, which became the Memphis Grizzlies that have been playing there ever since.
Players of note
- Joe Horn, wide receiver
- Eddie Brown
- Donald Igwebuike
- Damon Allen, quarterback
- Gary Anderson (running back)
- Derrick Atterberry, cornerback
- CFL USA all-time records and statistics
- Comparison of Canadian and American football
- 1995 CFL season
- Fitzpatrick, Michael (1994-05-03). "CBS IS PONDERING NEW FOOTBALL LEAGUE". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
- Memphis Mad Dogs on FunWhileItLasted.net
- Memphis Mad Dogs team profile, including game results
- Pepper Rodgers official site