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1974-1975 Memphis Southmen

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Larry Csonka Memphis SouthmenWorld Football League (1974-1975)

Born: May 8, 1974 - The Toronto Northmen relocate to Memphis, TN.
Died: October 22, 1975 – The WFL ceases operations in midseason.

Stadium: Memphis Memorial Stadium (50,164)

Team Colors: Burnt Orange & Brown

Owner: John Bassett et al.

 

The Memphis Southmen (AKA Grizzlies) began life 1,000 miles to the north in late 1973 as a planned pro football franchise known as the Toronto Northmen.  The lead investor of the Northmen was Toronto media scion John Bassett, Jr., whose burgeoning sports empire at the time also included the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association and the Buffalo-Toronto Royals of World Team Tennis.  Bassett’s father, John Sr., was a Toronto newspaper and television station baron who owned part of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs before losing it to Harold Ballard in an early 1970′s power struggle.

The Northmen were to be members of the upstart World Football League, which planned to begin play in July 1974 and combat the NFL head-to-head for top collegiate & pro talent.  The formation of the WFL brought (briefly) a form of limited free agency to pro football.  Free agent movement was virtually unheard of in the NFL at the time thanks to the chilling effects of the “Rozelle Rule” reserve clause.  But with the arrival of the WFL in 1974, NFL players were no longer indentured solely to their current teams.  They could jump to the rival league for a bigger paycheck – or at least use that threat to gain some rare negotiating leverage.  The new league pursued NFL talent aggressively, signing stars such as L.C. Greenwood, Calvin Hill, Craig Morton and Ken Stabler to futures contracts to jump leagues once their current NFL deals expired.  Ultimately, no team would make a bigger splash in the NFL-WFL player battle than Bassett’s franchise.

Memphis SouthmenOn March 31, 1974, the Toronto Northmen held a press conference to announce the signings of Miami Dolphins’ stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield.  All three were heroes of Miami’s legendary 1972 undefeated Super Bowl championship squad.  Bassett and his General Manager, Leo Cahill, flew the trio to Toronto and floored them with an offer that Dolphins owner Joe Robbie couldn’t or wouldn’t match.  $1.5 million over 3 years for Csonka, the MVP of Super Bowl XIII just two months earlier.  $1.0 million over three years for Warfield.  And $900,000 over the years for Csonka’s fellow running back Jim Kiick.  It was a shocking coup for the World Football League and a gut punch to one of the NFL’s elite franchises.  The Dolphins stars still had a year to run on their NFL contracts.  The plan was for Csonka, Kiick and Warfield to join Toronto for the WFL’s second season starting in the summer of 1975.

Meanwhile, Bassett found an antagonist back in Toronto who proved a much more formidable adversary than Joe Robbie.  Canadian federal minister of health and welfare set out to force Bassett out of Toronto, believing the arrival of the U.S.-based World Football League posed an existential threat to the Canadian Football League and its Toronto Argonauts franchise.  Lalonde filed the Canadian Football Act with Parliament in April 1974.  The act sought to protect the Canadian Football League and Canadian-born football players by keeping U.S.-based pro leagues out of Canada.  Although the legislation never passed, the debate created enough uncertainty and antagonism that Bassett picked up his franchise and moved to Memphis, Tennessee on May 8, 1974, barely two months before opening night of the first WFL season.

In Tennessee, the franchise would officially be known as the “Memphis Southmen”.  But locals didn’t cotton to the name too well, and colloquially the team was known as the “Grizzlies”.  (You can see the duality of the team’s identity on the first season media guide cover at left).

Although Csonka, Kiick and Warfield weren’t due to arrive in town for another year yet, the Southmen/Grizzlies still had arguably the best team in the WFL during the league’s debut season in 1974.  Head Coach John McVay ran a ball control offense for the most part, with 1964 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback John Huarte at the helm.  A trio of running backs – rookie draft pick J.J. Jennings out of Rutgers, along with John Harvey and Willie Spencer – combined for 3,197 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns.  Rookie quarterback/punter Danny White - who would later succeed Roger Staubach as starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys – saw considerable late-game action behind center in a platoon role with Huarte.

The Southmen finished 17-3 and were undeated (10-0) at Memphis Memorial Stadium.  But on November 29, 1974, they were upset at home by the Florida Blazers 18-15 in the playoff semi-final.  The Blazers were an insolvent franchise at the time.  Their players hadn’t been paid in months and within months team owner Rommie Loudd would be charged with both tax fraud and cocaine distribution charges.  The chaos surrounding the Blazers was only slightly more extreme than the turmoil enveloping the entire league.  Founder Gary Davidson was expelled from the league by disgruntle owners late in the season.   Several clubs relocated in midseason or simply folded without completing their schedules.  Amidst it all, the Southmen were a beacon of stability.  The team paid its bills and Bassett reportedly had to bail out other owners on several occasions.

At the end of the season, halfback J.J. Jennings (1,524 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) was named Rookie-of-the-Year and one of the WFL’s ‘Tri-MVPs” for the 1974 season.

Ed Marshall Memphis SouthmenThe World Football League was all but dead by December 1974.  Many of the teams that survived the 1974 season now faced tax liens, property seizures and myriad lawsuits.  The Southmen’s arch rivals, the Birmingham Americans, defeated the Blazers to win World Bowl I, only to see sheriff’s deputies interrupt their post-game celebration to confiscate the team’s equipment.  But Hawaiians owner Christopher Hemmeter took the lead to re-organize the league under a new corporation and recruit new investors.  Bassett was one of only a handful of original investors who returned for the second season.

The WFL returned for a second season in July 1975 and that meant that Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield were headed to Memphis, Tennessee.  To make room the Csonka and Kiick in the already crowded backfield, the team’s 1974 sensation J.J. Jennings was shipped out to play for the WFL’s Philadelphia Bell franchise.  The trio of ex-Dolphins earned a cover shoot on the July 28, 1975 edition of Sports Illustrated in their Grizzlies uniforms- the first and only time that the WFL would be so honored by the nation’s premiere sports periodical.

Despite the arrival of the big stars, the Southmen seemed to take a step back during the first half of the 1975 season.  Csonka battled nagging injuries and missed games.  He would score only two touchdowns during his time in Memphis.  Kiick had the biggest impact, scoring 10 touchdowns, but Memphis’ leading rusher was the unheralded 1974 holdover Willie Spencer.  No one replaced the production of the departed J.J. Jennings.

At quarterback, 2nd year pro Danny White took over the primary role from Huarte, who accepted back-up status.  White showed flashes of the promise that would make him a started in the NFL for much of the 1980′s but was still very much a developing player.  By late October, the Southmen had a record of 7-4 and sat in 2nd place in their division behind arch rival Birmingham.  As with the first season, the rest of the league was in chaos.  The new Chicago franchise had already folded up shop after just five games.  On October 22, 1975, the league owners voted to shutdown the league immediately rather than complete the 1975 season.

Csonka, Kiick and Warfield returned to the NFL.  John McVay was hired as an assistant coach by the New York Giants in 1976 and brought several ex-Southmen with him, including Csonka, defensive back Larry Mallory, wide receiver Ed Marshall, offensive lineman Ron Mikolajczyk and tight end Gary Shirk.

After the WFL folded, Bassett kept some of his key staff in place to petition for admission to the NFL as an expansion franchise.  A winter 1975-76 season ticket drive resulted in 40,000 pledges.  But the NFL turned down Bassett’s application.   Bassett responded with an anti-trust suit against the league – Mid-South Grizzlies v. National Football Leaguedragged on until 1983.  By that time, Bassett was back in pro football as owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the springtime  United States Football League.  Memphis would get a USFL expansion franchise the following year – the Showboats – to finally replace the Southmen/Grizzlies after nearly a decade’s absence.

 

==Memphis Southmen Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1974 8/7/1974 @ Philadelphia Bell L 46-15 Program
1974 8/14/1974 @ Detroit Wheels W 37-7 Program
1975 7/14/1975 @ Southern California Sun (exh.) L 47-16 Program
1975 7/26/1975 @ Shreveport Steamer (exh.) W 14-7 Program
1975 8/2/1975 vs. Jacksonville Express W 27-26 Program
1975 9/7/1975 vs. The Hawaiians W 37-17 Program
1975 9/14/1975 vs. Shreveport Steamer W 34-23 Program
1975 9/28/1975 @ San Antonio Wings L 25-17 Program
1975 10/12/1975 vs. Birmingham Vulcans L 18-14 Program

 

==Downloads==

1975 WFL Standard Player Contract

 

==Links==

They’re Grinning and Bearing“, Robert F. Jones, Sports Illustrated, July 28, 1975

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Game Programs

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1968-1969 Spokane Shockers

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Spokane ShockersContinental Football League (1968-1969)

Born: 1968 – The Victoria Steelers relocate to Spokane, WA.
Died: Postseason 1969 – The Shockers cease operations.

Stadium: Joe Albi Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners: Community stockholders (Richard J. O’Neill, President)

 

Short-lived minor league football team that called Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium home for two seasons in the autumn of 1968 and 1969.  The Spokane Shockers served as a developmental team for the Oakland Raiders in 1969 and, less formally, in 1968 as well.

The team is best remembered today as the remote outpost where Raiders legend Ken Stabler began his professional career with a pair of non-descript appearances late in the fall of 1968.  Stabler, Oakland’s 2nd round draft pick out of the University of Alabama that spring, had a balky knee and would spend the entire 1968 season on the Raiders’ taxi squad except for those two games in Spokane.  The Snake wouldn’t start a game in the NFL until 1971 or win the Raiders’ starting job until he was 28 years old in 1973, but in 1977 he led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI.

The Shockers were owned by a broad group of approximately 40 community stockholders who put up $2,000 each to help bring the former Victoria (B.C.) Steelers of the Continental Football League to the Lilac City in early 1968.  Richard J. O’Neill of Moloney & O’Neill insurance was the President of the board.  Former University of Washington star Don McKeta was the driving force behind bringing the team to Spokane and served as Head Coach and General Manager during the 1968 season.

The Shockers had a 3-9 record in 1968 and McKeta was replaced by Hugh “Bones” Taylor in 1969.  The team improved marginally to 5-9 in 1969, then went out of business along with the rest of the Continental Football League at the end of that season.

 

==Spokane Shockers Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1968 10/6/1968 vs. Sacramento Capitols ?? Program Roster

 

==Links==

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

June 30th, 2014 at 5:47 pm

1966-1967 Eugene Bombers

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Eugene Bombers

Pacific Football League (1966)
Continental Football League (1967)

Born: 1966
Died: Spring 1968 - The Bombers cease operations.

Stadium: Bethel Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Peter Murphy, et al.

 

The Eugene Bombers were a brief pro football entry in the Oregon city of Eugene in the late 1960′s.  The club originated in the semi-pro Pacific Football League in autumn of 1966.  The team played well, posting a 7-2 record, but attendance fell as temperatures dipped in November and the club elected to forfeit its playoff appearance for financial reasons.

Nevertheless, the Bombers had the best attendance in the Pacific League and they were invited to move up the pro football ladder in March 1967 with the formation of the Pacific Division of the previously East Coast-based Continental Football League.  The Pacific Division was basically a league-within-a-league and Eugene played exclusively against other Pacific Division opponents including Orange County (California), Sacramento, San Jose, Seattle, and Victoria (British Columbia).  The San Jose Apaches were coached by future Super Bowl-winning coach and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Bill Walsh.

Unlike the Pacific Football League, the Continental League was fully professional.  The bulk of the Bombers’ roster had local college ties at the University of Oregon, Oregon State or Portland State.  Key players included quarterback Paul Brothers, who led the Oregon State Beavers to the 1965 Rose Bowl against Michigan, and his former OSU teammate Jack “Mad Dog” O’Billovich, who started at middle linebacker.

The Bombers shared the city’s Bethel Park with the Eugene Emeralds minor league baseball team.  Both clubs found the stadium unsuitable for their long term sustainability and hoped to collaborate on construction of a new facility.  The Bombers ultimately folded in the spring of 1968 after just one season in the Continental League and before the stadium question could be resolved.  Bethel Park would be demolished the following year and the Continental League itself would go out of business in early 1970.

 

==Eugene Bombers Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1967 10/1/1967 vs. Orange County Ramblers W 21-17 Program Roster

 

==Links==

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

June 28th, 2014 at 3:25 am

1983-1984 Michigan Panthers

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Michigan PanthersUnited States Football League (1983-1984)

Born: May 11, 1982 – USFL founding franchise.
Died: November 20, 1984 – The Panthers merge with the Oakland Invaders.

Stadium: Pontiac Silverdome

Team Colors: Royal Plum, Champagne Silver, Light Blue & White

Owner: A. Alfred Taubman, Max Fisher and Peter Spivak

 

The Michigan Panthers were a very strong pro football entry in the United States Football League.  A popular springtime alternative to the Lions for Detroit gridiron fans, the team was soon pushed out of business by the USFL’s decision to abandon its spring schedule in favor of head-to-head competition with the NFL in the fall.

During the league’s first season in the spring of 1983, the Panthers were one of the top-spending teams in the USFL.   and put together a blend of NFL veterans and talented rookies.  The offense, in particular, relied on a trio of rookie skill position players – unheralded Cajun quarterback Bobby Hebert out of Northwestern State (Louisiana), running back Ken Lacy from the University of Tulsa, and star wideout Anthony Carter of Michigan, who would have been a top NFL draft pick in 1983 had the Panthers not lured him away from the senior circuit.

The defense was keyed by NFL washout John Corker, who would terrorize the USFL in 1983 with 28.5 sacks from his outside linebacker position, and rookie safety David Greenwood out of Wisconsin (who doubled as the Panthers’ punter).

David Greenwood USFLThe Panthers got off to a weak 1-4 start before catching fire midway through the season.  They won 11 of their final 13 to finish the 1983 season with a 12-6 record.  As the wins mounted, fans began to take notice.  When the Panthers hosted the Western Conference championship playoff game against the Oakland Invaders at the Silverdome on July 10th, 1983, a USFL record 60,237 fans showed up.

The following week, the Panthers travelled to Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado for the first USFL Championship Game against the Philadelphia Stars.  The Panthers won the game 24-22 with the decisive play coming on a 4th quarter touchdown pass from Hebert to Carter.

The script flipped for the Panthers during the 1984 USFL season.  Michigan got off to a hot start, racing out to a 6-0 record through the first third of the schedule.  But in Week Six against the San Antonio Gunslingers, Anthony Carter broke his arm and was lost for the remainder of the season.  The team went into a prolonged funk, losing eight of their next ten before rallying to win their final two games and sneak into the playoffs with a 10-8 record.

On June 30th, 1984 the Panthers played the Los Angeles Expressquarterbacked by future Hall-of-Famer Steve Young, in a first round playoff contest.  The quarterfinal game turned into an epic battle, although fewer than 8,000 fans were on hand to watch it at the Coliseum.  The Express finally triumphed 27-21 in the third overtime period, on a long touchdown run by future Detroit Lion Mel Gray.  At three overtimes, the game remains the longest pro football game in history.

It was also the last game ever played by the Panthers.  At the end of the 1984 season, USFL owners voted to shift to a fall season in 1986.  The Panthers were against the move, not wishing to compete head-to-head with the NFL’s Detroit Lions.  The business model shift set off a wave of relocations and mergers among the USFL franchises located in NFL markets.  In the fall of 1984, the Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders.  Most of the top Panthers players, with the exception of John Corker, moved to Oakland for the USFL’s final spring season in 1985.

The Invaders, led by Hebert, Carter and other Michigan holdovers, returned to the USFL championship game in 1985.  There they met the Baltimore Stars in what was to some degree a rematch of the 1983 USFL title game against the then-Philadelphia Stars.  (The Stars were another relocation born out of the USFL’s planned switch to the fall).  This time the Stars came out on top with a 28-24 victory at Giants Stadium on July 14, 1985.  This was the final game in USFL history, as the league folded before staging its planned fall season in 1986.

 

==Michigan Panthers Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
4/4/1983 vs. Denver Gold L 29-21 Program
5/1/1983 @ Boston Breakers W 28-24  Program Video
5/16/1983 vs. New Jersey Generals W 31-24 Video
5/23/1983 vs. Birmingham Stallions L 23-20 Program Video
7/3/1983 vs. Arizona Wranglers W 33-7 Program Video
7/10/1983 vs. Oakland Invaders W 37-21 Program
7/17/1983 Philadelphia Stars W 24-22 Program Video
2/27/1984 vs. Chicago Blitz W 20-18 Video
3/3/1984 vs. Pittsburgh Maulers W 27-24 Video
3/26/1984 @ Houston Gamblers W 52-34 Video
4/23/1984 vs. Tampa Bay Bandits L 20-7 Video
4/29/1984 @ New Jersey Generals L 31-21 Video
5/20/1984 @ Los Angeles Express L 24-17 Video
5/27/1984 vs. Philadelphia Stars L 31-13 Video
6/30/1984 @ Los Angeles Express L 27-21 (3 OT) Video

 

==Key Players==

  • Anthony Carter
  • John Corker
  • Bobby Hebert

 

==YouTube==

The Panthers defeat the Philadelphia Stars in the first USFL championship game.  July 17th, 1983.

 

==In Memoriam==

Defensive end Larry Bethea, who had 11 sacks for the Panthers in 1984, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 24, 1987 at age 30.

Defensive lineman Phil Dokes, a 1977 NFL 1st round pick who played for the Panthers in 1983, passed away on December 7th, 1989 at age 34.

Panthers offensive guard Tyrone McGriff died of a heart attack on December 9th, 2000 at age 42.

Former Panthers Head Coach Jim Stanley died of melanoma at age 76 on January 12, 2012.

Safety John Arnaud died of lung cancer at age 51 on November 10, 2012.

 

==Downloads==

1983 David Greenwood USFL Standard Player Contract

 

==Links==

USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs

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Written by andycrossley

June 1st, 2014 at 1:43 pm

October 19, 1975 – Portland Thunder vs. Jacksonville Express

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Jerry Inman Portland ThunderPortland Thunder vs. Jacksonville Express
October 19, 1975
Civic Stadium
Attendance: 8,713

World Football League Programs
28 Pages

 

This rare, colorful program comes from the final night of action from the star-crossed World Football League on Sunday, October 19, 1975.  Tales of doom and ruin stalked the two-year old league for weeks, with many singling out the struggling Portland Thunder franchise as a weak-link in the fragile confederation.  Portland was far from the only trouble spot though.  A rain-soaked WFL contest in Philadelphia the previous night marked a humiliating nadir for the league when only 1,293 fans showed up.

Portland Thunder WFLThe league said all of the right things about resilience, but in truth the owners were exhausted after losing a collective $10 million through the first 12 weeks of the planned 20-week 1975 season.  The WFL had no TV contract and minimal sponsorship, leaving teams dependent solely on ticket revenue.  The league-wide average through midseason dwelled beneath 14,000 per game and plummeted further each week as the season went on.

This final game was perhaps the finest for the Portland Thunder franchise, who came in as one of the league’s worst clubs with a  3-7 record.  The Thunder pounded away at the Jacksonville Express with 217 rushing yards on 48 carries, while attempting only 12 passes.  Former University of Wisconsin running back Rufus Ferguson led the way with 141 yards and a touchdown.  Portland also scored on a punt return and a flea flicker off a fake field goal attempt.  The 30-13 victory was the most decisive win in the Thunder’s brief 11-game history.

Three days later the league shut its doors for good, on October 22, 1975.  The Thunder finished their only season with a 4-7 last-place record.

Former University of Oregon defensive tackle Jerry Inman is pictured on the cover of the Thunder’s final program.  Inman played eight seasons for the Denver Broncos in the AFL and NFL from 1966 to 1973 before finishing his career in the WFL.  This was his final pro game.

 

==Downloads==

October 19, 1975 Jacksonville Express Roster

October 19, 1975 Portland Thunder Roster

 

==Links==

Jacksonville Express Home Page

Portland Thunder Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

May 31st, 2014 at 12:10 am