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1974-1975 Philadelphia Bell

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1974 Philadelphia BellWorld Football League (1974-1975)

Born: 1973 – WFL founding franchise
Folded: October 22, 1975

Stadiums: 

Team Colors:

Owners: 

WFL Championships: None

 

The Philadelphia Bell were one of twelve original franchises in the World Football League in 1974. The Bell made several efforts to poach high profile stars and draft picks from the National Football League during their brief lifespan. But the team was best known for “Papergate”, an attendance reporting and accounting scandal that demolished the fledgling WFL’s credibility barely than a month into its debut season.

The Bell organization took shape along with the rest of the WFL over the winter of 1973-74. John B. Kelly, Jr., a local sports hero and the elder brother of actress Grace Kelly, served as the front man for the Bell ownership group. The team offered a reported 3-year, $500,000 contract offer to the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner, running back John Cappelletti of Penn State.  Cappelletti, picked #11 overall in the NFL draft that winter, wisely chose to sign with the Los Angeles Rams for less money. The Bell biggest “name” signing in 1974 was linebacker/madman Tim Rossovich, the Eagles’ #1 draft pick back in 1968. Ron Waller, who finished out the 1973 NFL season.

Ron Waller hired on to coach the Bell. Though Waller finished the 1973 NFL season as interim head coach of the San Diego Chargers, he spent much of his coaching career in the bush leagues. Waller stocked the Bell roster with skill position players from the defunct Pottstown (PA) Firebirds, a championship minor league club that he coached in the late 1960’s. Quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran and the running back tandem of John Land and Claude Watts were all Firebirds alums.

1974 Philadelphia Bell ProgramThe Bell debuted at 100,000-seat John F. Kennedy Stadium on July 10th, 1974. Waller’s squad drubbed the visiting Portland Storm 33-8. But the big headline was the crowd. Bell officials announced a stunning attendance figure of 55,534. When the team returned two weeks later for its second home game against the New York Stars on July 25th, an even larger mob of 64,719 fans gathered at JFK Stadium. The TVS network broadcast the game nationwide. The Bell blew two go-ahead field goal attempts in the game’s final three minutes and lost 17-15.

120,000 fans for the Bell’s first two home games! Local journos assumed that team officials must have papered the city with free tickets. Not so, claimed the team’s Executive Vice President Barry Leib when questioned after the New York game. Leib obfuscated, indicating a minority of tickets were discounted for group sale or distributed to corporate sponsors. Left unsaid was an implication that Philly fans bought the majority of the tickets at face values of $2, $5 and $8. The Bell were forced to disclose actual paid attendance figures when it came time to pay city taxes on the sale of the tickets. The Bell actually sold fewer than 20,000 for the first two home games. Just 6,200 fans – less than 1/10th the announced crowd – paid for the New York game on July 25th.

On August 8th, 1974, one day before Richard Nixon’s resignation as President, the Bell held a press conference to apologize for the deception. The press dubbed the scandal “Papergate” and various outlets, including Sports Illustrated, pejoratively began referring to the WFL as the “World Freebie League”. Bell President John B. Kelly, Jr. resigned from the club in mortification. Attendance crashed, bottoming out at the Bell’s ninth home game against the Shreveport Steamer on October 16th, 1974. Just 750 fans showed up for the game on rainy Wednesday night. It was the smallest crowd in World Football League history.

On the field, the Bell underachieved. The offense, led by the Pottstown contingent, was high powered. Corcoran threw for 3,631 yards and 31 touchdowns (albeit with 30 picks to match). John Land and Claude Watts combined for over 2,000 yards rushing. The defense was suspect though and the Bell entered the final week of the WFL season with an 8-11 record. The Bell were scheduled to play the Chicago Fire at JFK Stadium on November 13, 1974. But Fire owner Tom Origer had had enough of the WFL. Rather than travel to Philadelphia, he forfeited the game and folded his franchise. With a 9-11 record, the Bell were on the outside looking in for the postseason. Until the Charlotte Hornets decided they couldn’t afford to compete in the playoffs and withdrew. The Bell replaced Charlotte on the league’s playoff schedule. The team traveled to Orlando and lost to the Florida Blazers 18-3 in the divisional round on November 21, 1974.

The WFL re-grouped to stage a second season in the fall of 1975. Bell owner John Bosacco was one of only two original WFL owners with the stomach to carry on for a second campaign. The rest of the 1975 WFL investors were new guys who apparently never read the newspaper. The Bell moved from 100,000-seat JFK Stadium to 60,000-seat Franklin Field for the new season. The team fired head coach Ron Waller during training camp in July 1975, just one week before the regular season opener. Team owner John Bosacco promoted Willie Wood, the team’s defensive coordinator, to the head job three days before . Wood, a former All-Pro safety for the Green Bay Packers, became the first African-American head coach in pro football since Fritz Pollard in 1925. Only 3,266 fans turned up at Franklin Field for the Bell’s 1975 home opener on July 19th.

The Bell had one of the most prolific offenses in the WFL in 1974.  All three skill players returned in 1975. The Bell added former NFL All-Pro tight end Ted Kwalick and running back J.J. Jennings, one of the WFL “Tri-MVP’s” in 1974 with Memphis. But the offense went backwards under Wood’s direction. Land and Watts remained a fearsome ground force. Along with Jennings, they racked up nearly 1,500 yards in eleven games. The passing game, however, collapsed. Wood benched Corcoran in favor NFL journeyman Bob Davis, who quarterbacked the Florida Blazers to the WFL’s World Bowl title in 1974. Both signal callers saw action in 1975, but neither found consistent form.

By October 1975 the writing was on the wall for the Bell and the WFL. After five home games at Franklin Field, the Bell averaged a league-worst 3,705 fans per game. National media outlets began to speculate that the WFL would terminate the club’s membership before the end of the season. Instead, the entire league voted to cease operations entirely on October 22, 1975 without completing its second season of play.  The Philadelphia Bell’s final game was played at Franklin Field four days earlier on October 18, 1975. Just 1,293 fans showed up.

 

Philadelphia Bell Shop


Bell Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League by Mark Speck

Philadelphia Bell Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Bell team President Jack Kelly Jr. (Bell ’74) died of a heart attack while jogging on March 2, 1985. He was 57.

Quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran (Bell ’74-’75) passed away in 2009 at the age of 65. Washington Post obituary.

Linzy Cole (Bell ’74) died in September 2016. The wide receiver, who was the first African-American to play football at Texas Christian University in 1968, was 68 years old.

 

Downloads

1975 World Football League Standard Player Contract

 

Links

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

November 13th, 2017 at 4:52 pm

1974 Florida Blazers

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1974 Florida Blazers Media GuideWorld Football League (1974)

Born: May 1974 – The Virginia Ambassadors relocate to Orlando.
Folded: December 1974

Stadium: The Tangerine Bowl

Team Colors:

Owner: David Williams, Rommie Loudd, Will Gieger, Howard Palmer, et al.

WFL Championships: None

 

The 1974 Florida Blazers enjoy a something of a cult following among pro football history buffs.  Fearsome on the field, the franchise was a train wreck in the front office.  The Blazers were put together by Rommie Loudd, a 41-year old former AFL linebacker and New England Patriots executive.  Loudd is occasionally cited as the first African-American owner of a “major league” American sports franchise for his time with the Blazers, but the team’s main money man was a Central Florida Holiday Inn franchisee named David Williams.  By December 1974, the Blazers were in the “World Bowl” championship game, the team’s best player had played the entire season without a paycheck, and Rommie Loudd was in jail.

But let’s back up a bit.  The franchise originated in late 1973 as the “Washington Ambassadors”, part of the startup World Football League that would challenge the NFL starting in the summer of 1974.  Original owner Joseph Wheeler couldn’t secure a lease or put together financing in Washington, so the team became the “Virginia Ambassadors” in the spring of 1974.  But Wheeler couldn’t get things off the ground in Norfolk, VA either, so in May 1974 he sold the team to Loudd’s Orlando-based syndicate.  Less than 60 days remained before the WFL’s scheduled opening day on July 10th, 1974.  Head Coach Jack Pardee had already opened training camp in Virginia, but the team loaded onto a train and decamped for Orlando.

Pardee had a solid veteran squad on both sides of the ball.  Bob Davis, a former back-up to Joe Namath on the New York Jets, earned the starting quarterback job. Linebackers Larry Grantham, a perennial AFL All-Star with the Jets in the 1960’s, and Billy Hobbs anchored a stout defense.

Florida BlazersThe Blazers’ breakout find was diminutive rookie running back Tommy Reamon, a 23rd round draft pick from the University of Missouri. Reamon scored 14 touchdowns and led the WFL with 1,576 yards rushing in 1974. At the end of the season, he was named one of the league’s “Tri-MVPs”, along with Southern California Sun quarterback Tony Adams and Memphis Southmen tailback J.J. Jennings. Reamon split a $10,000 prize with his co-MVPs. Decades later, Reamon revealed that his $3,333 MVP share was the only payment he received for the entire 1974 season.

The rest of Reamon’s teammates faired somewhat better, receiving paychecks during the league’s first couple of months. But things went poorly for the Blazers immediately in Orlando. Crowds failed to materialize at the Tangerine Bowl, which barely met pro standards back in the mid 1970’s, with 14,000 permanent seats supplemented by temporary bleachers.

By late August, just six weeks into the season, Rommie Loudd was talking publicly of a midseason move to Atlanta. The move never occurred, but paychecks stopped arriving not long afterwards. Promises and rumors of new investors or payroll support from the league office never came through. Somehow, Pardee kept the team together through three months without pay. The club staggered into the playoffs. In the playoff semi-final, the Blazers overcame a 15-0 deficit on the road to upset the Memphis Southmen, the league’s best regular season team. The Blazers headed to Birmingham’s Legion Field for the World Bowl championship game.

Trailing 22-0 in the second half to the Birmingham Americans, the Blazers mounted a furious late rally, only to fall short 22-21. In the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and teams earned an eighth point (or “action point”) by scoring a conversion from the two-and-a-half yard line. The Blazers failed to convert all three Action Points in the title game, and that was the difference in the outcome. That and a controversial call on the Blazers’ opening possession. Television replays on the TVS Network appeared to show Tommy Reamon break the plane of the Americans’ end zone in the first quarter. But officials on the field ruled that Florida’s star rookie fumbled the ball through the end zone for a touchback. Reamon, who had a strong game overall with 83 yards on the ground and a touchdown, also failed to convert the decisive action point in the 4th quarter that would have tied the game at 22-22.

The league revoked the Blazers franchise a few days after the World Bowl loss due to financial insolvency. Within three weeks, Loudd was in jail on charges of embezzling sales taxes collected on Blazers’ ticket sales. A few months later, the feds added narcotics trafficking charges to Loudd’s legal woes. He was convicted in late 1975 and sentenced to two fourteen-year sentences. A parole board freed Loudd after three years in prison. Loudd later became a minister and passed away in 1998.

Many of the Blazers players ended up playing for a new WFL expansion team in 1975 known as the San Antonio Wings. The Wings were better organized, certainly, than the Blazers. But the league itself went under in October 1975, failing to finish out its second season of operation.

Tommy Reamon played briefly in the NFL in 1976. He later became an actor, most notably playing the wide receiver Delma Huddle in the 1979 Nick Nolte football drama North Dallas Forty.  

 

Florida Blazers Shop


Blazers Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

…and a dollar short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers

 

Florida Blazers Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Blazers tight end Greg Latta passed away of a heart attack at age 41 on September 28, 1994.

Blazers GM Rommie Loudd died of complications from diabetes on May 9, 1998 at age 64.  New York Times obit.

Linebacker Billy Hobbs died when his moped was struck by a car on August 21, 2004. Hobbs was 57.

Former Blazers head coach Jack Pardee died of cancer on April 1, 2013 at age 76.

 

Links

Florida Blazers Fans, Friends & Former Players Facebook Page

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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World Football League Trading Cards Series II & III Released

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WFL Trading CardsBack in June 2013, I reviewed a set of World Football League trading cards produced by a quartet of fans and historians who grew up following the WFL during its brief and wacky run in 1974-1975.  The WFL came and went just before the trading card boom of the early 1980’s, so no contemporary card sets were issued during the league’s short existence.

So Greg Allred, Richie Franklin, Bill Jones and Willie O’Burke decided to rectify that with a lovingly curated 70-card series of cards, featuring players from the WFL’s first (and only) full season of 1974.  After an enthusiastic reception by football collectors, the group is back with three new WFL issues, including a Series II devoted to the WFL’s abbreviated 1975 season and a unique “Die-Cut” helmet & logo sub-set, which pays tribute to the Sunbeam Bread grocery store inserts of the mid-1970’s that featured NFL helmets of the era.

Order Your Set Here

Fun While It Lasted caught up Bill Jones & co. for a look at the latest issues in their World Football League retro series.

 

Gerry Philbin New York StarsFWIL:

So give me the lowdown on the current state of your WFL Card Series.  How many series are there now, covering how many cards?

Bill Jones:

We currently have 3 series of 70 cards each and the Die-Cut helmet set. The Series I and III sets feature the 1974 WFL season, while the Series II set features the 1975 season.  We would love to print a card of every player who played in the World Football League, but we know that is not possible.

With our new WFL Die-Cut cards we have paid a great tribute to the WFL and it’s unique style. Our cards have been a way of keeping the spirit of the World Football League alive.

 

FWIL:

Florida BlazersTalk more more about the Die-Cut series.  It features helmets and logos of all the WFL franchises, along with one which never took the field, the Washington Ambassadors.  What was the inspiration there?

Bill Jones:

That credit goes to Willie O’Burke. They were influenced by the Sunbeam Bread NFL cards from 1976. Sunbeam Bread came out with a series of die-cut helmets cards for the NFL. It was one of the best football card sets every produced. The WFL folded before Sunbeam ever had a chance to produce a set for the league, so we’re just trying to capture the same excitement and design of that NFL die-cut series with a version of WFL die-cut cards. Gene Sanny did the artwork for the set and did a fantastic job.  We all wanted to produce something that would give a nod to the early to mid 1970’s while using today’s higher quality technology and materials.

 

FWIL:

After you issued Series I in 2013, did you have any new photo discoveries that you were especially excited about for Series II or III?

Bill Jones:

Actually, every photo we have used on these cards is a “discovery.” Photos of WFL players are very rare in general, so they are each very special. And that’s what makes these cards that much more exciting…they are like little rare photo treasures of a league that made a quick entrance & exit on the pro football landscape.  The best part has been our willingness to open our own collections to allow the best photos to be used in these sets.  The four of us together have an extensive collection of photos.  For us, we have been re-discovering WFL photos from our own collections that we forgot we had.  Together we select the very best we have on each player. We have a few contributors who have lent us photos from their private collections as well. We are very grateful to Chris Gmyrek and Jim Cusano, who both have many great photos. We have even reached out to a few former WFL players.

 

Jim Nance Shreveport SteamerFWIL:

How were sales of the 1st Series compared to your expectations?

Bill Jones:

I’m not sure we had any clear sales expectations when we started out.  The WFL was not around long enough to have a set of cards made.  Fans of the WFL have been waiting for these cards for almost 40 years, and we get to satisfy their long wait. That’s ultimately why we’re doing this: to honor the WFL…a league we loved dearly…and to bring joy to all of the WFL fans we can!

Series I has been our overall best seller. When collectors discover our Web site or read a review on our cards they usually order Series I. Most have been repeat customers, and they end up buying Series II and now Series III.  Our die-hard customers also request our Die-Cut cards too.

 

WFL Trading CardsFWIL:

I continue to be impressed with the card stock especially.  Comparing your WFL series to the recent Topps Archives issues, your cards actually have a much more authentic look and feel than Topps own in-house retro productions.  How did you work to get that authentic/vintage look & feel in the age of digital printing?

Bill Jones:

First of all, thank you for the compliment. The four of us were clearly influenced by the Topps cards we collected growing up in the 1970’s. One of our initial goals was to create a set of cards that looked like it came from the mid-70’s, both in the art design and the materials.  The grey card stock gives the WFL cards that authentic feel.  We had many prototypes that we came up with, and we worked diligently together to come up with our design. It was a total team effort that the four of us are very proud of.  It was also important to all four of us to produce a product that we would want to buy and add to our personal collections.

FWIL:

Do you each have a favorite card from the entire series?

Richie Franklin:

I love all of our cards. I don’t think I have a particular favorite, but a few do stand out for me. I love the Series II Title card with the painting from Gene Sanny. Gene did an outstanding job on that card for us. I like our Virgil Carter (Fire) and Tom Sherman (Stars) cards in Series I. The Don Horn (Thunder) and Anthony Davis (Sun) are great cards from Series II. Our new Series III cards have some great photos of Gerry Philbin (Stars) and Ron Porter (Fire), and they made excellent cards. Again, there are a lot of great cards in all of our sets with rare WFL photos.

Don Horn Portland ThunderWillie O’Burke:

Personally, I’m a fan of the quarterbacks. Even in my NFL football card collection, I mainly stick with the quarterback cards. So each of the quarterback cards in the WFL set stand out to me. I grew up in Houston so the Houston Texans cards are also special.

Bill Jones:

As a fan of the Southern California Sun, I am really excited to have cards of players from this team.  As a helmet enthusiast, I also really like the cards that feature great shots of helmets.  I am particularly happy with the Don Horn (Thunder) card, which shows a helmet stripe combination that was rarely photographed.

Greg:

I think mine would have to be Johnny Musso.  I’ve always been a big University of Alabama fan and Musso fan. He played in the CFL, WFL, & NFL, but only had CFL cards. I’ve never seen an NFL card of his (I don’t think any were ever produced of him) so I’m really grateful to actually be able to have a card of his in this series.

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WFL Trading Cards Series I, II, III and Die-Cut Helmets Cards are available at:

www.wflfootballcards.com

 

 ==Slideshow==

==Links==

Sports Collectors’ Digest Review

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Written by AC

February 18th, 2015 at 3:19 pm

1974 Chicago Fire

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Chicago Fire WFLWorld Football League (1974)

Born: October 1973 – WFL founding franchise.
Folded: January 1975.

Stadium: Soldier Field

Team Colors:

Owner: Tom Origer

World Bowl Championships: None

 

Chicago apartment developer Tom Origer was the first man to buy into the World Football League in October 1973, paying a reported $440,000 to acquire his Chicago Fire franchise.  It did not turn out to be a happy investment for the 41-year old builder.

The Fire featured a handful of names familiar to local football fans, including ex-Chicago Bears Virgil Carter (QB) and Jim Seymour (WR).  Rookie receiver James Scott was a breakout star.  After the demise of the WFL Scott would play seven seasons for the Bears from 1976 to 1983.  Another rookie – Chicago native Mark Kellar – was one of the league’s most productive running backs until a mid-season injury.

The Fire started out hot, winning seven of the first nine games in 1974.  The team was also a fairly popular draw, averaging 29,220 fans for 10 home dates at Soldier Field, despite competing for fans with the Bears during the WFL’s fall season.  But injuries and bad luck took their toll and the Fire lost their final 11 games to finish 7-13 in what would prove to be their only season.  Origer, fed up, forfeited the team’s final contest rather than travel to Pennsylvania to play the Philadelphia Bell on November 13, 1974.

The team muddled along in semi-existence until January 1975, when Origer laid off the Fire’s final few staff members and closed up shop.  The World Football League quickly put a new team into Chicago – the Chicago Winds – for the 1975 season.  But the Winds went belly up after only 5 games in 1975, and the league itself closed down on October 22, 1975 without managing to complete its second campaign.

 

Chicago Fire WFL Shop

Chicago Fire WFL Women’s Retro T-Shirt

Chicago Fire WFL Retro T-Shirt by American Classics

WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilarious True Story of the World Football League by Mark Speck

 

Chicago Fire WFL Memorabilia

 

Fire Video

Footage from the July 17, 1974 Chicago Fire at Jacksonville Sharks WFL game from the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

 

 

Downloads

July 1974 Chicago Fire “Line of Fire” Newsletter

 

Links

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by AC

October 22nd, 2014 at 1:54 am

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.
Folded: October 22, 1975

Stadium: Memphis Memorial Stadium (50,164)

Team Colors: Burnt Orange & Brown

Owner: John Bassett et al.

World Bowl Championships: None

 

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.

The signings were 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 to be a more formidable adversary than Joe Robbie.  Canadian federal minister of health and welfare Marc Lalonde set out to force Bassett out of Toronto Lalonde believed the arrival of the U.S.-based World Football League posed an existential threat to the Canadian Football League and its Toronto Argonauts franchise.  The minister’s Canadian Football Act sought to protect the CFL and native-born football players by keeping U.S.-based pro leagues out of Canada. The legislation never passed, but the debate created enough uncertainty and antagonism that Bassett moved his franchise to Memphis, Tennessee on May 8, 1974. The shift came just 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 went 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 Shop

Southmen Retro Brown T-Shirt by A&E Designs

Southmen Retro Gray T-Shirt by A&E Designs

WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League by Mark Speck

 

 

Memphis Southmen Memorabilia

 

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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