|Based in||Memphis, Tennessee|
|Home field||Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium|
|Head coach||John McVay|
|Owner(s)||John F. Bassett|
|League||World Football League|
|Colours||Burnt Orange and Brown|
The Memphis Southmen were an American football franchise in the World Football League (WFL), which operated in 1974 and 1975. They played their home games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.
From North to South
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. 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 fanatic. 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.
Ironically, Memphis would eventually not only receive another professional sports team via a relocation from Canada, but one that would be officially called the Grizzlies - the Vancouver Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association would move to Memphis in 2001. The NBA Grizzlies are the only major professional sports team to keep its nickname after moving from Canada to the United States.
Memphis and the NFL
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.
Still, there were fans who would not 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 in the early 1990s, his estate was involved in an attempt to bring the NFL to Memphis; the Memphis Hound Dogs proposal ultimately lost (professional football would eventually come to the city in 1995 in the form of the Canadian Football League's Mad Dogs, which Presley's estate had no involvement with; the team folded after that single season).
Schedule and results
|1||Wednesday||July 10, 1974||Detroit Wheels||W 34–15||30,122|
|2||Thursday||July 18, 1974||Portland Storm||W 16–8||31,088|
|3||Wednesday||July 24, 1974||at Birmingham Americans||L 33–58||61,319|
|4||Thursday||August 1, 1974||Southern California Sun||W 25–15||25,175|
|5||Wednesday||August 7, 1974||at Philadelphia Bell||L 15–46||12,396|
|6||Wednesday||August 14, 1974||at Detroit Wheels||W 37–7||14,424|
|7||Wednesday||August 21, 1974||Hawaiians||W 60–8||25,123|
|8||Wednesday||August 28, 1974||at Florida Blazers||W 26–18||15,746|
|9||Monday||September 2, 1974||at Jacksonville Sharks||W 16–13||22,169|
|10||Saturday||September 7, 1974||Houston Texans||W 45–0||15,291|
|11||Wednesday||September 11, 1974||Birmingham Americans||W 46–7||30,675|
|12||Wednesday||September 18, 1974||at Chicago Fire||W 25–7||26,678|
|13||Wednesday||September 25, 1974||at Shreveport Steamer||W 17–3||21,357|
|14||Wednesday||October 2, 1974||Jacksonville Sharks||W 47–19||15,016|
|15||Wednesday||October 9, 1974||at Charlotte Hornets||W 27–23||25,133|
|16||Wednesday||October 16, 1974||Florida Blazers||W 25–15||15,334|
|17||Thursday||October 24, 1974||at Portland Storm||L 25–26||13,228|
|18||Wednesday||October 30, 1974||at Hawaiians||W 33–31||20,544|
|19||Thursday||November 7, 1974||Chicago Fire||W 49–24||14,085|
|20||Wednesday||November 13, 1974||Charlotte Hornets||W 28–22||13,339|
|Semi-finals||Friday||November 29, 1974||Florida Blazers||L 15–18||9,692|
|1||Sunday||August 2, 1975||Jacksonville Express||W 27–26||25,166|
|2||Sunday||August 9, 1975||Charlotte Hornets||W 23–11||19,729|
|3||Sunday||August 23, 1975||at Philadelphia Bell||L 18–22||5,051|
|4||Sunday||August 30, 1975||Chicago Winds||W 31–7||21,515|
|5||Sunday||September 7, 1975||Hawaiians||W 37–17||15,132|
|6||Sunday||September 14, 1975||Shreveport Steamer||W 34–23||18,003|
|7||Sunday||September 21, 1975||at Portland Thunder||W 16–3||14,818|
|8||Sunday||September 28, 1975||at San Antonio Wings||L 17–25||16,283|
|9||Sunday||October 5, 1975||Southern California Sun||W 37–33||18,129|
|10||Sunday||October 12, 1975||Birmingham Vulcans||L 14–18||20,192|
|11||Sunday||October 19, 1975||at Birmingham Vulcans||L 0–31||35,000|
- "Basset says Northmen likely to move". Globe and Mail. 1974-05-04.
- "Toronto of W.F.L. Gets Memphis Home". New York Times. 1974-05-07.
- York, Marty (1983-03-22). "Alternative to Tiger-Cats: Bassett sees Hamilton in USFL". Globe and Mail.
- Ford, Mark L. (2000). "25 Significant "Meaningless" NFL Games" (PDF). The Coffin Corner. 22 (5). Pro Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 14, 2010. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
- "1974 World Football League Game Results". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
- "1975 World Football League Results". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
- "Head coach", Football Digest August 1974 issue