Memphis Southmen

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Memphis Southmen
Memphis Southmen logo

Founded 1974
Folded 1975
Based in Memphis, Tennessee
Home field Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
League World Football League
Division Central (1974)
Eastern (1975)
Colors Burnt Orange & Brown          
Nickname(s) Grizzlies
Head coach John McVay
Owner(s) John F. Bassett

The Memphis Southmen were a franchise in the World Football League which operated in 1974 and 1975. They played their home games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee, United States.

From North to South[edit]

The team was originally slated to be based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with the nickname of the Northmen. However, when Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced that no U.S.-based professional football league would be allowed in Canada in competition with the Canadian Football League under the Canadian Football Act, a change in venue and nickname was announced.[1][2][3] From the beginning, Memphians disliked "Southmen" and the team was informally known as the Memphis Grizzlies. The name appeared to come from the logo, a representation of a bear backed by the sun.

The "Grizzlies" were owned by John F. Bassett. A multi-millionaire, Bassett gave the league instant credibility by signing three stars from the National Football League's Miami Dolphins for the 1975 season: running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, and wide receiver Paul Warfield. John McVay was introduced as the head coach before the 1974 season.

The Southmen's home opener against Detroit drew 30,122 fans, including Elvis Presley, a professed football nut. Country superstar Charlie Rich sang the national anthem. After Rich took his seat next to Elvis afterward, Presley commented, "That's a tough song to sing, ain't it?" Rich replied, "It ain't no Behind Closed Doors."

Even before the Miami Trio arrived, the 1974 Southmen found two durable running backs in J.J. Jennings and John Harvey, and they finished with the league's best record at 17-3. They lost in the semi-finals to the Orlando-based Florida Blazers, 18-15.

In 1975, Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield finally came to Memphis (now officially dubbed the Grizzlies), but even they couldn't save the league, which folded during the middle of its second season. The 1975 Grizzlies finished 7-4; in their last WFL game, they were shut out by the Birmingham Vulcans, 21-0. In 2004 Mississippi's Johnny Wofford produced a DVD honouring the 1974-75 Southmen/Grizzlies. It included pictures from the 2004 30 year reunion conference.

Memphis and the NFL[edit]

The Southmen were one of the stronger and better-supported WFL franchises, and would have almost certainly been a viable venture had the WFL's overall management been more financially sound. After the WFL folded, Bassett applied for membership in the NFL as an expansion team. Over 40,000 deposits for season tickets were collected in this effort, which included a telethon on a Memphis television station, during December 1975. To their dismay, the NFL refused to accept the team. McVay and many of the Southmen moved on to join the New York Giants, where in what has been described as "The closest approximation to a meeting between the champions of the WFL and the NFL," the Southmen reinforcements helped the Giants defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers 17–0 in a 1976 preseason matchup.[4]

Still, there were fans who wouldn't quit. A lawsuit, Mid-South Grizzlies v. NFL, tried to force the league to accept the Grizzlies. It was not settled until 1984, by which time Bassett owned the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League and the case was rendered moot.

Long after Presley's death, his estate was involved in an attempt to bring the NFL to Memphis; the Memphis Hound Dogs proposal ultimately lost.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Basset says Northmen likely to move". Globe and Mail. 1974-05-04. 
  2. ^ "Toronto of W.F.L. Gets Memphis Home". New York Times. 1974-05-07. 
  3. ^ York, Marty (1983-03-22). "Alternative to Tiger-Cats: Bassett sees Hamilton in USFL". Globe and Mail. 
  4. ^ Ford, Mark L. (2000). "25 Significant “Meaningless” NFL Games". The Coffin Corner 22 (5) (Pro Football Researchers Association). Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  • "Head coach", Football Digest August 1974 issue