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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 Programs 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
1974 9/18/1974 @ Chicago Fire W 25-7 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 8/30/1975 vs. Chicago Winds W 31-7 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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1968-1976 Memphis Blues

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Memphis Blues ProgramTexas League (1968-1970)
Dixie Association (1971)
Texas League (1972-1973)
International League (1974-1976)

Born: 1968
Died:  November 8, 1976 – The Blues franchise is revoked and later moved to Charleston, WV

Stadium: Tim McCarver Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Memphis Blues were the local minor league baseball club for the Bluff City from 1968 until 1976.  The Blues started out as the Class AA farm club of the New York Mets in the Texas League from 1968 until 1973.  (This included a one-year run in the Dixie Association in 1971, which was a temporary partnership of the Texas League and the Southern League, who played an interlocking schedule that summer.)

The Mets’ years didn’t produce an especially noteworthy roster of future Major League stars.  Jim Bibby, John Milner, Ken Singleton and Craig Swan were among the more successful Blues graduates of the era.  But the team was strong by Class AA standards, winning Texas League crowns in 1969 and 1973.

1975 TCMA Gary Carter Trading CardIn 1974 the Blues switched Major League affiliations to the Montreal Expos and made the leap from Class AA to Class AAA by jumping to the International League.   Future Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter was a standout for the 1974 Blues, belting 23 home runs and knocking in 83.  Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine came through town in 1975, headlining a bumper crop of prospects headed to Montreal.

In September 1975, team owner Dr. Bernard Kraus hired 31-year old former American League Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain as the Blues’ new General Manager.  McLain was (and still is, as of 2014) the last man to win 30 games in a single season (1968).  But he was an odd choice to run the business operations of the club.   McLain’s career was derailed in the early 1970’s partially by arm problems, but also by a well-publicized gambling addiction, get rich quick schemes, bankruptcy and numerous suspensions from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.  Two months later, in November 1975, Kraus sold off the deep-in-debt Blues to Jerry Bilton of Kansas City, a high school friend of McLain’s.

Along with the management shake-up, the Montreal Expos also pulled out of town after two seasons.  The Houston Astros became the Blues’ parent club for the 1976 season.  Top players included Art Howe, Terry Puhl and Joe SambitoFloyd Bannister, the #1 overall pick in the 1976 amateur draft, also made one start for Memphis during his quick ascent to the Majors.

By the end of the 1976 season, the Blues franchise was in serious financial straits.  McLain departed and former owner Bernard Kraus briefly regained control of the team in September 1976, but was unable to secure new investors to recapitalize the insolvent ball club.  In November 1976, the directors of the International League revoked the franchise for failing to pay league debts.  The same month, the Blues were effectively moved to Charleston, West Virginia where they became the “new” Charleston Charlies, replacing another International League club of the same name that shifted to Columbus, Ohio earlier in the year.

Local businessman Avron Fogelman immediately began efforts to bring pro baseball back to Memphis.  Fogelman secured a franchise in the Class AA Southern League.  After a summer without baseball in 1977, Fogelman’s Memphis Chicks began play in 1978 and played until 1997.  Triple-A baseball returned in 1998 with the Chicks’ departure to Jackson, Tennessee and the arrival of the Memphis Redbirds expansion team in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Blues owner Dr. Bernard Kraus died of heart disease on November 9, 1978 at age 59.

1976 Blues field manager Jim Beauchamp died of leukemia on Christmas Day 2007 at age 68.

1974 Blues catcher and future Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter died of brain cancer on February 16, 2012.  Carter was 57.

 

==Downloads==

September 9, 1975 Memphis Chicks Hire Denny McLain Press Release

 

==Links==

Texas League Media Guides

Texas League Programs

International League Media Guides

International League Programs

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1912-1960 Memphis Chicks

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Memphis ChicksSouthern Association (1912-1960)

Born: 1912 – Name change from Memphis Egyptians
Died: Postseason 1960 – The Chicks cease operations.

Stadium: Russwood Park (10,514 in 1960)

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The original Memphis Chicks (AKA Chickasaws) played in the Southern Association from 1912 to 1960.  The Southern Association was one of the most stable minor leagues in America during the first half of the 20th century.  Like the Chicks themselves, many of Memphis’ league rivals – such as the Atlanta Crackers, Birmingham Barons and Nashville Volunteers – endured for decades.

Key figures that came through Memphis during the Southern Association era included future Hall-of-Famers Luis Aparicio (1955) and Luke Appling, who had a couple of stints managing the ball club during the 1950’s.  Native son Tim McCarver played for the Chicks during their final season in 1960.  Then there was Pete Gray.

Memphis ChicksGray lost his right (dominant) arm when he was thrown from a truck at age 6.  Nevertheless, he thrived as outfielder for the Chicks in 1943 and 1944.  In 1944, Gray batted .333, hit 5 home runs and stole 68 bases.  He was named Southern Association MVP that summer and made his Major League debut with the St. Louis Browns the following season.

Chicks popularity surged after World War II, peaking in the summer of 1948 when 361,174 fans watched the team at Russwood Park.  But interest dropped precipitously in the 1950’s.  In 1959, total attendance dipped beneath the 50,000 mark.

In 1960, the Chicks inked a new affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals, which brought star prospects like McCarver andMike Shannonto the Bluff City.  But an Easter Sunday inferno destroyed Russwood Park on April 17th, 1960.  The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians had just played an exhibition game at the park earlier in the day.  The Chicks had to play the 1960 season at temporary facilities.

Memphis was forced to withdraw from the Southern Association in late 1960 due to the loss of Russwood Park.  The league itself folded one year later.

Memphis went without pro baseball for eight years until the Memphis Blues of the Texas League arrived in 1968.  In 1978, Memphis got a new franchise in the Class AA Southern League and new owner Avron Fogelman revived the “Chicks” name for the new club.  The new Chicks played from 1978 to 1997.

 

==Links==

Southern Association Programs

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Written by andycrossley

May 10th, 2014 at 3:28 pm

September 14, 1975 – Memphis Southmen vs. Shreveport Steamer

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Willie Spencer Memphis SouthmenMemphis Southmen vs. Shreveport Steamer
September 14, 1975
Memphis Memorial Stadium
Attendance: 18,003

World Football League Programs
56 pages

 

Rare program from the 1975 Memphis Southmen from the final weeks of the World Football League (1974-1975).  The Southmen got loads of press attention (including a Sports Illustrated cover story) after team owner John Bassett convinced Miami Dolphins stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Paul Warfield to jump leagues for the 1975 season.

Although the ex-Dolphins were the top headline makers in the failing WFL, it was actually a pair of anonymous holdover players from Memphis’ 1974 squad who outperformed them, at least statistically.  Willie Spencer, an unusually tall running back (6′ 4″) who never played college football, outrushed both Csonka and Kiick and led the club with 581 yards on the season.  And former All-Pro Paul Warfield’s modest output (25 catches for 422 yards and 3 TDs) was overshadowed by small college product Ed Marshall (31-582-9 TDs).

Spencer was pictured on the cover of this September 14, 1975 program for a Memphis home game against the Shreveport Steamer and would score the game’s first touchdown on an 8-yard run.  (Csonka was on the sidelines, missing his second straight game due to injury).

This game was notable as the first professional start at quarterback for Danny White, a second year player out of Arizona State whose primary role on the Southmen was as the team punter.  As a rookie in 1974, White backed up 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte and passed for over 1,000 yards, but it wasn’t until late in the 1975 season that White finally unseated the elder quarterback.  With White under center, the Southmen raced out to a 26-0 halftime lead and then held on as Shreveport back-up quarterback D.C. Nobles came off the bench and threw three second half touchdowns as the Steamer mounted a furious comeback.  It wasn’t quite enough.  Memphis held on to win 34-23.

The World Football League folded just over a month later without completing its second season.  Csonka, Kiick and Warfield all returned to the NFL.  Willie Spencer and Danny White managed to latch on as well.  Spencer saw limited time as a reserve back with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants from 1976 to 1978.  White signed with Dallas Cowboys as a punter and Roger Staubach’s back-up in 1976.  He took over the starting QB job after Staubach retired in 1980 and ran the offense for most of the 1980’s, taking the Cowboys to three straight NFC championship games but never making it to the Super Bowl.

 

==Downloads==

September 14, 1975 Shreveport Steamer Roster

 

 

==Links==

Memphis Southmen Home Page

Shreveport Steamer Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

January 5th, 2014 at 2:28 am

1981-1984 Memphis Americans

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Memphis Americans SoccerMajor Indoor Soccer League (1981-1984)

Born: May 1981 – The Hartford Hellions relocate to Memphis, TN.
Died: April 1984 – The Americans relocate to Las Vegas, NV.

Arena: Mid-South Coliseum (9,500)

Team Colors: Red, White & Blue

Owners:

 

The Memphis Americans soccer team… they arrived from Hell and they left for Sin City, but for a few years in between they were God’s club…

During the late 1970’s, Memphis, Tennessee had a mediocre outdoor soccer club known as the Memphis Rogues.  The Rogues weren’t especially good, nor were they particularly popular.  Their summertime matches at the city’s 50,000-seat Liberty Bowl typically attracted fewer than 10,000 customers.

But in the winter of 1979-80, something funny happened.  The Rogues took part in the North American Soccer League’s first indoor soccer season.  The campaign was something of an experiment – only 10 of the league’s 24 clubs elected to take part.  To everyone’s surprise, indoor soccer proved to be a big hit in Memphis.  The Rogues nearly sold out the 9,500-seat Mid-South Coliseum and six dates.  They were also good, advancing to the NASL indoor championship series.  And then they were gone, packed up and sold off to Calgary, Alberta a few months later.  The Rogues wouldn’t be back for another season of indoor human pinball, but their flash-in-the-pan popularity put Memphis, Tennessee on the map for investors looking to get in on the indoor soccer boomlet of the early 1980’s.

Stan Stamenkovic Memphis AmericansAfter the Rogues left town in September 1980, Mid-South Coliseum went back to its traditional role as a pro wrestling hub.  There were no team sports in the building in the winter of 1980-81.  Then in May 1981 retired Arizona businessman Ray Kuns and Dave Hannah, the founder of the evangelical Christian sports ministry Athletes In Action teamed up to purchase the bankrupt Hartford Hellions of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) and move the team to Memphis.  Within six months, Kuns turned the team over to local owners Charles Kelley and Robert Ryan and returned to Arizona.  Kelley and Ryan followed in the avowedly Christian identity of the Americans management team.

Unsurprisingly, the Athletes In Action folks weren’t big on the “Hellions” identity and the team was given a patriotic new identity and color scheme: the Memphis Americans.

Patriotism aside, the Americans best players were all foreigners.  Memphis’ finest player was Stan Stamenkovic, a chain-smoking Yugoslav who scored 101 goals in 77 games during the Americans’ first two years.  But Stamenkovic left Memphis after two seasons for the rival Baltimore Blast in 1983-84 and promptly led Baltimore to the MISL championship that season, while winning league MVP honors.

Other notables were German All-Star defender Helmut Dudek and Argentinean midfielder Toni Carbognani, a former Rogue who played for just about every iteration of pro soccer in Memphis in the 1980’s (and there were many).

The team’s biggest name was an American, but he didn’t play.  When the team arrived in 1981, the owners hired recently retired 31-year old soccer star Kyle Rote Jr. as Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations.  Rote was the best known American player of the 1970’s, thanks to his famous father (a former NFL All-Pro) and his three victories in ABC Sports’ popular Superstars competition.  Rote was also a prominent Christian athlete, which tied in well with the team’s original ownership.  By the team’s third and final season in 1983-84, Rote assumed the dual role of Head Coach and General Manager.

Attendance at Americans’ games never quite matched the high expectations set by that handful of Rogues’ indoor games a few years earlier.  Part of that was due to the MISL’s schedule.  While the Rogues had the benefit of novelty and played only six home matches in the winter of 1979-80, the Americans played 22 to 24 dates a winter at Mid-South Coliseum, which was an awful lot of soccer for a Southern football city to absorb.  Crowds were middling by MISL standards and the club was sold and relocated to Las Vegas in April of 1984.  The team played one final season as the Las Vegas Americans and then went out of business in July 1985.

In 1986 a third indoor soccer team arrived in town.  The Memphis Storm belonged to the lower-budget American Indoor Soccer Association, but they failed to spark much interest.  After two seasons, the club dropped the Storm nickname and revived the old “Rogues” identity in a last-ditch effort to dredge up some nostalgia, but that didn’t help and the Storm/Rogues franchise folded in 1989.

 

==Memphis Americans Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1981-82 3/15/1982 @ New Jersey Rockets L 8-4 Program
1982-83 12/7/1982 @ Los Angeles Lazers L 5-4 (OT) Program
1982-83 2/11/1983 @ Los Angeles Lazers L 9-4 Program
1982-83 2/25/1983 @ Cleveland Force W 4-3 Program
1982-83 3/20/1983 @ Cleveland Force L 7-4 Program
1983-84 1/27/1984 vs. Buffalo Stallions W 8-3 News Highlights
1983-84 3/24/1984 @ Los Angeles Lazers W 4-3 (OT) Program

 

==YouTube==

A goofy Americans TV spot, along with some newscast highlights from a January 27, 1984 match against Buffalo Stallions.

 

 

==In Memoriam==

Americans’ defender Helmut Dudek died of cancer of May 22, 1994 at age 36.

Americans’ all-time leading scorer Stan Stamenkovic died after slipping and falling on a sidewalk in Yugoslavia on January 28, 1996.  He was 39.

 

==Downloads==

1983-84 Memphis Americans Results & Attendance

 

==Links==

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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