Memphis Mad Dogs
|Based in||Memphis, Tennessee, United States|
|Home field||Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium|
|Head coach||Pepper Rodgers|
|Colours||Forest green, gold, maroon, black, and white
The Memphis Mad Dogs were a Canadian football team that played the 1995 season in the Canadian Football League. The Mad Dogs were part of a failed attempt to expand the CFL into the United States. They played at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
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. The league was very impressed with Smith; his group was the richest in CFL history at the time. It seriously considered selling either the Hamilton Tiger-Cats or Calgary Stampeders to Smith. After those teams resolved their ownership situations, Smith's group was granted an expansion franchise for 1995. With Presley's estate no longer involved, the team's name was changed from the "Hound Dogs" to the "Mad Dogs," ostensibly through a name-the-team contest.
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 the Baltimore Stallions' blueprint by getting staff and players who had previous CFL experience. As part of that blueprint, 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 (the latter with 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. The Liberty Bowl was not as well suited to the Canadian game as most U.S. stadiums. The stands were very close to the field of play, making it difficult to reconfigure the field to CFL standards. As a result, even with the addition of AstroTurf cutouts to widen and lengthen the field, it was still narrower and shorter than all other CFL fields, including those other US fields which were not regulation. In fact, it was not even close to regulation length; in order to shoehorn even an approximation of a Canadian field onto the playing surface, the end zones became half-grass/half-Astroturf pentagons that were only nine yards long in the middle and seven yards long at the sidelines. CFL rules dictate a 20-yard end zone and no other stadium had end zones shorter than 15. The stands jutted into the corners of the end zones, creating a clear safety hazard.
Memphis ended the 1995 CFL season with a 9–9–0 regular season record, which placed them fourth in the South Division and one game out of the playoffs.
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's foray into the United States was doomed to failure from the start.
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, the CFL traditionally plays on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays—the same days as high school and college football games in the United States. Smith knew that the Mad Dogs could not hope to go head-to-head with high school games on Fridays and Tennessee and Ole Miss football on Saturdays. The Birmingham Barracudas faced the same problem. With this in mind, Smith persuaded the CFL to let the Mad Dogs play late-season games on Sundays, as the 'Cudas had done. It did not work; 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. As early as September, Smith was blaming community indifference and outright hostility from the media for the team's steep decline at the gate.
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
Due to massive losses and the late-season attendance collapse, the Mad Dogs folded at the December 1995 CFL meetings. It is likely they would have been forced out of town in any event by the impending arrival of the NFL's Houston Oilers, who were planning to play at the Liberty Bowl while their new stadium in Nashville was being built. Sharing the Liberty Bowl with the Oilers would have caused serious logistical problems in September and October, and no other stadium in the Memphis area was suitable even for temporary use. The Stallions faced a similar situation when the arrival of the Baltimore Ravens forced them to move out of town after winning the Grey Cup.
By February 1996, the Barracudas, Texans and Shreveport Pirates had also folded while the Stallions had reconstituted themselves as the third incarnation of the Montreal Alouettes, ending the CFL's three-year experiment south of the border.
Besides financial and attendance problems, the Mad Dogs were hobbled by 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 NFL's Tennessee Oilers 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 at the time) before moving to Nashville. If successful, it 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. Due to Memphians' unwillingness to support a lame-duck team and Nashvillians' reluctance to travel across Interstate 40 to see "their" team play, Oilers games didn't draw much more than the Mad Dogs had drawn even on a good day and often drew 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
- Alex Gordon, linebacker
- Eddie Brown
- Donald Igwebuike
- Damon Allen, quarterback
- Gary Anderson, Gary Anderson
- Bobby Dawson, defensive 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.
- "N.F.L. Expansion Surprise: Jacksonville Jaguars". New York Times. December 1, 1993. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
- "Memphis Owner Angered by Apathy". Times Daily, September 15, 1995. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
- "Team Folds in Memphis". New York Times. December 1, 1995. Retrieved 26 January 2014.