Memphis Southmen

The Memphis Southmen, also known as the Memphis Grizzlies, were an American football team based in Memphis, Tennessee. They played in the World Football League (WFL), which operated in 1974 and 1975. They played their home games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Memphis Southmen
Team logo
Based inMemphis, Tennessee
Home fieldLiberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Head coachJohn McVay
Owner(s)John F. Bassett
LeagueWorld Football League
DivisionCentral (1974)
Eastern (1975)
ColoursBurnt Orange and Brown    

From North to SouthEdit

The team was originally slated to be based in Toronto, 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 the Detroit Wheels 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, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Paul 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.

Memphis eventually not only received another professional sports team via a relocation from Canada, but one that was 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.

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 NFLEdit

The Southmen were one of the stronger and better-supported WFL franchises. With the wealth of Bassett, by far the richest owner in the WFL, behind them, the Southmen 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 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).

The NFL's Tennessee Oilers (newly relocated from Houston) played their 1997 season in Memphis before making their permanent home in Nashville.

Schedule and resultsEdit

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 0–21[7] 35,000

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ "Basset says Northmen likely to move". The Globe and Mail. 1974-05-04.
  2. ^ "Toronto of W.F.L. Gets Memphis Home". The New York Times. 1974-05-07.
  3. ^ York, Marty (1983-03-22). "Alternative to Tiger-Cats: Bassett sees Hamilton in USFL". The Globe and Mail.
  4. ^ Ford, Mark L. (2000). "25 Significant "Meaningless" NFL Games" (PDF). The Coffin Corner. Vol. 22, no. 5. Pro Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 14, 2010. 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.
  7. ^ Thomas, Roy (20 Oct 1975). "Vulcs take fire out of Southmen". Montgomery Advertiser. p. 7. Retrieved 2021-10-04 – via
  • "Head coach", Football Digest August 1974 issue