Memphis Southmen

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Memphis Southmen
Team helmet
Team logo
Established 1974
Folded 1975
Based in Memphis, Tennessee
Home field Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Head coach John McVay
Owner(s) John F. Bassett
League World Football League
Division Central (1974)
Eastern (1975)
Colours Burnt orange and brown          
Nickname(s) Grizzlies

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[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 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.

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.

Schedule and results[edit]

Key: Win Loss Bye

1974 regular season [5][edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Result Attendance
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


Game Day Date Opponent Result Attendance
Quarter-finals BYE
Semi-finals Friday November 29, 1974 Florida Blazers L 15–18 9,692

1975 regular season [6][edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Result Attendance
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

See also[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" (PDF). The Coffin Corner 22 (5) (Pro Football Researchers Association). Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  5. ^ "1974 World Football League Game Results". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  6. ^ "1975 World Football League Results". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  • "Head coach", Football Digest August 1974 issue