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The Memphis Southmen were a franchise in the World Football League which operated in 1974 and 1975. They played their home games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.
The team was originally slated to be based in Toronto, Ontario 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. From the beginning, Memphians disliked the official nickname and the team was informally and perhaps better-known as the Memphis Grizzlies, which were not connected to the current National Basketball Association team of that name now based in Memphis, and itself relocated from Vancouver, British Columbia. This name appeared to come from the logo, which appeared to be a representation of a bear backed by the sun.
The "Grizzlies" were owned by John F. Bassett, who later was to become far better-known as the owner of the United States Football League Tampa Bay Bandits. He apparently had more resources than most of the other WFL team owners. Bassett gave the league instant credibility by signing three stars from the National Football League's Miami Dolphins: running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, and wide receiver Paul Warfield for the 1975 season. John McVay was introduced as the Memphis Southmen head coach before the start of the 1974 football season in the World Football League.
Even without the Miami Trio, the Southmen of 1974 found two durable running backs in J.J. Jennings and John Harvey. Its opener, against Detroit, drew 30,122. Of the most famous was Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n' Roll and a professed football nut. Elvis and many other Memphians watched the WFL club finish with the best record in the league, at 17-3. They lost in the semi-finals to a hungrier and poorer team in the Orlando-based Florida Blazers, 18-15.
Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield finally donned Memphis orange. But even the three stars couldn't save the league, which folded during the middle of its second season. The 1975 version finished at 7-4. In their last WFL game, the Southmen were shut out by the Birmingham Vulcans, 21-0.
The team was unwilling to give up easily, however, and announced an effort to get accepted into the National Football League. Over 40,000 deposits for season tickets were collected in this effort, which even included a telethon on a Memphis television station, during December 1975. To their dismay, the NFL refused to accept the team, however, and it went out of existence. Still, there were fans that wouldn't quit: a lawsuit, Mid-South Grizzlies v. NFL, intended to force the league to accept the Grizzlies, was brought and was not settled until 1984, by which time Bassett owned the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League.