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The World Football League Web site presents an interview with former Memphis Southmen Quarterback/Punter Danny White

We had the pleasure of speaking with Danny White at the Dulles Expo Center on October 13, 2012. Danny was in town for the Collectors Showcase of America sports memorabilia show in Chantilly, Virginia. This is our second "live" interview. After Danny's scheduled time with CSA he was headed to Baltimore, Maryland to prepare for the Dallas Cowboys-Baltimore Ravens football game. Danny is a color analyst for the Cowboys Radio Network. Danny was extremely gracious as he took time to take photos, sign autographs and sit down with us for an interview. We want to thank Danny for donating his time as he recalled his playing days with the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League.

WFL: Danny, thank you for taking the time to do an interview with the World Football League Web site. We also appreciate the photo for our WFL Films Web site.

DW: Sure...not a problem.

WFL: You were an All-American quarterback at Arizona State in 1973 and you were selected in the 1974 WFL and NFL college drafts. The Chicago Fire selected you in the second round and the Dallas Cowboys selected you in the third round. What were your reasons for selecting the WFL and how did you end up signing with the Toronto Northmen instead of the Chicago Fire?

DW: Well first of all... evidently there was a trade and I was traded from the Chicago Fire to the Toronto Northmen owned by John Bassett. I had been to rookie camp with the Cowboys. The Cowboys had made me an offer. After rookie camp they doubled their offer... which was kind of nice. I was getting ready to sign with the Cowboys when John Bassett called me. He was the owner of the Toronto Northmen, and basically just said "Hey Danny...you know let's forget all of the agents and the negotiations...just tell me what it would take to get you to come to the World Football League," I said "well you give me some time, let me think about it." So I called him back and after thinking about it... you know the Cowboys had Craig Morton and Roger Staubach, they had Marv Bateman as their punter. I wasn't going to play anytime real soon in Dallas. That was pretty obvious. So I thought...you know this might be an opportunity to get some playing time and to get a little bit of experience. So I took what the Cowboys had offered me and I doubled it. (Laughs) I said "Mr. Bassett, if you'll pay me this, I will sign with the World Football League, and he said "You got it. Get on a plane, we're going to have a press conference tomorrow and announce it." And that was that. It was the easiest negotiations I've ever been through in my life. In fact I thought, dang I should have asked for more...you know it happened so quickly and so easily. So that was basically two things the matter of money. Of course the money wasn't that much...back then, but it was substantially more with the World Football League. So the money and the chance to play right away...get some experience. Those were really the two factors.

Toronto GM, Leo Cahill and Danny White at the Northmen press conference to announce the signing of Danny White.

WFL: When did you meet Toronto General Manager, Leo Cahill and Head Coach, John McVay, and were either influential in you're signing with the Northmen?

DW: They really weren't. I had already signed by then. I don't really remember when I first met them. I'm sure it was after the Toronto move to Memphis and became the Memphis Southmen...Grizzlies. I'm sure I met them in Memphis for the first time.

WFL: You inked a deal with Toronto on March 18, 1974. Thirteen days later, Toronto owner, John Bassett signed "the trio" of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield from the Miami Dolphins. What were your thoughts on their signing with the Northmen, and what message did the World Football League send that day?

DW: Well I'm sure they signed right after they found out I signed (laughing)...that's a joke. They didn't have a clue who I was, but I certainly knew who they were. You know it just gave the whole league creditability...instantly. These were guys coming off the Super Bowl...undefeated season...and I can tell you...you know I didn't work real closely with Csonka and Kiick, but Paul Warfield was such a great example to me of what professional football is all about. He was the hardest worker. He would stay out after practice... every day...run extra routes, so we could get our timing down. So having the three of them really gave me a flavor of what the NFL was going to be like. It was... I didn't know it when I signed...uh... and it's probably a good thing because if I had known they were going to be on the team I would have signed for a lot less. Because those are the kind of people you want to be around...you want to associate yourself with...and they...were real pros.

(NOTE: The Miami Dolphins undefeated season was in 1972.)

WFL: After "the trio" signed to play in the WFL, the league announced other NFL stars that were jumping over to the new league. Calvin Hill, Ted Kwalick, Daryle Lamonica, Kenny Stabler, John Gilliam, Bill Bergey, Craig Morton among others. How exciting was this and did you feel that you had made the right decision to play in the WFL?

DW: Um... you know I felt I had made the right decision to begin with because I was looking at a chance to play and not just sit on the bench. But when those guys started signing, it was an indication to me that this league was well funded...that it was going to last. You know with that kind of money behind it...and these kinds of players coming over that it had a real chance of competing with the NFL.

WFL: Were you looking forward to playing in Toronto, and were you disappointed when the Northmen announced they were moving to Memphis to become the Southmen?

DW: I was not disappointed (laughing) when they moved to Memphis. Although my wife is from Canada...she is from Western Canada...Calgary... and I love Canada, but the thought of playing in Toronto was not nearly as appealing to me as the thought of playing in Memphis, so as far as I'm concerned personally... that was a real advantage to be able to play in Memphis.

WFL: What were your first impressions of Memphis owner John Bassett and the Southmen organization?

DW: John Bassett was the class of that league. In fact it was his financial backing that kept the league going for as long as it did. I could not have asked for a better owner to work for, a better organization, a better administration. Everything about the Memphis Southmen football organization was as close to the NFL as you could get in the WFL.

John Huarte and Danny White.

WFL: You had the distinction of playing behind two quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy. John Huarte in Memphis, the 1964 winner from Notre Dame, and Roger Staubach in Dallas, who was the 1963 winner from Navy. What was that experience like and how much did the both of them influence your career?

DW: Well both of them were ...uh...were great to work with...great to learn from. Both of them were confident professionals and I probably learned more about how to conduct myself off the field ...uh...then I did actually on the field. But being able to watch John play...direct the team and run the offense and then of course there to Roger...you can't get that kind of education in school. You can't pay any amount of money to learn the kind of things that I learn from those two guys.

WFL: What was your impression of the Southmen coaches and your first pro training camp in 1974?

DW: Well it was tough. I remember being very impressed with the organization, the structure...with of course, John McVay...as we were to find out later...he...as great a football mind as there was in the game...and he had put together a great staff and so the whole experience... fortunately, and you know... I had heard horror stories about guys on other teams in the league that didn't have that kind of structure, that kind of an organization to play for. So I know I was very fortunate to have the management...Leo Cahill, John Bassett...Ed Dubai ...another member of that staff, that organization...really, really made life easy for us. It was actually a professional football team...it wasn't a minor league football team.

WFL: Take us back to that opening night on July 10, 1974, when the Memphis Southmen hosted the Detroit Wheels?

DW: I wish I could. I've had...had too many concussions and I've been hit in the head too many times. If I'm not mistaken... that... that may have been the night that Elvis Presley was there...you know...that's the thing I probably remember the most. I can't tell you who won the game...what the score was...or anything else, but I remember Elvis Presley...Charlie Rich came to some of our games. I was a big country music fan...a big music fan... just basically, but to have the King in the audience...you know just inspired me all the more, so you know...I think that most of us at the time probably just thought well it's was just another football game and that we didn't really realize that we were starting a league that was going to go down in history...as being a league that...that actually...gave birth to a lot of the great players in the National Football League. There were a number...I don't think people realize how many great young players we had... guys in our league go on...went on to have great careers ...uh... in the National Football League and I'm sure most of them would at least give some credit to the World Football League for giving them their start.

WFL: Did you feel that the city of Memphis supported the Southmen well?

DW: Memphis was a great place to play. They were very supportive. We had... we struggled I know in the second year...attendance was down a little bit, but you know it was up to us to put a product on the field to go win a championship. We didn't do that the first year...and felt like we had the best team in the league, but...and have the best record ...but we didn't win the championship. Something we needed to do on the field.

WFL: Memphis fans called the team both the Southmen and Grizzlies. Which team nickname did you prefer?

I think I preferred Grizzlies. I'm not sure what a Southmen is...I know what a Grizzly is. I think because of the logo...the fact that they had already created a logo for the Northmen with the grizzly bear with the setting sun. They needed to incorporate a bear into the name somehow, so we ended up becoming the Southmen/Grizzlies, but I've always thought of them as the Memphis Grizzlies.

WFL: Danny, we ask everyone this question. What was your opinion of the 1974 WFL football?

DW: The actual ball...you know I thought it was a little hokey. I'm not a marketing guy. I'm just a football player...and I would just assumed to play with a regular football, but there were greater... much greater minds behind that...behind the organization of it all and the marketing didn't involve me. As long it was the same shape...and the same size I guess I really didn't care. I didn't have to look at it. Receivers really were the ones that it probably affected more then anybody.

WFL: Another gimmick the WFL tried to use was the "color coded pants." Larry Csonka refused to wear them prior to a 1975 exhibition game in San Antonio. What were the thoughts of the rest of the Grizzlies players on wearing those pants that night?

DW: Good for Larry (laughing)...I was one hundred percent in support of Larry. What we didn't want to do was to turn football into a circus. You know there were some rule changes and there were some things a little bit different about it...but at the end of the day its football...and you can change a few things but you don't want to change it so much where it distracts from traditional football...and I thought those uniforms were going a little...going a little over board.

Danny White passed for 1190 yards and 12 TD's as a rookie in 1974.

WFL: Name a few of the WFL's stronger defensive teams you played against during the 1974 and 1975 seasons, and some of the tougher players you faced during both seasons?

DW: I have no idea...I really don't. You know...I know Birmingham had a great team and Chicago had a good team...Southern California Sun had a good team. I couldn't tell you though which team...I don't even know who we beat and who we lost to in that first year. To me it was all professional football ...professional defenses ...it was a huge step up to from what I was use too.

WFL: Did you ever watch WFL games on the TVS Sports Network on Thursday nights in 1974 when the Southmen were off?

DW: Yeah...I watched them whenever...whenever we weren't playing. ..I was in front of the TV set watching the games. I wanted to see how other teams in the league were doing.

WFL: How disappointing was it to finish the 1974 regular season at 17-3, and get upset by the Florida Blazers in the WFL playoffs?

DW: Well it was very disappointing ...because anytime you lose to a team you're supposed to beat it's disappointing...especially in the playoffs...especially with the first year. You know you only have one chance to make a first impression as they say. There is only one team that can win the first ...World Football League Championship and we had a chance to be that team...and make history ...and we...we blew it. So it was very disappointing.

Danny White was a dual threat for the Southmen as both a QB/Punter.

WFL: John Bassett awarded the Southmen players and coaches with 1974 Central Division rings. Do you still have your ring and do you ever wear it?

DW: I do have my ring. I don't have the occasion to wear it very often because I now have a Hall of Fame ring...a Super Bowl ring and a NFC Championship ring...that doesn't mean that it's not special. Those rings are...you know... a reminder of all the hard work that went into those years. Every year was special and that first year in the World Football League is...was very special, so that ring is very important, but until they have a WFL reunion it's hard to have an occasion to really wear it. I don't...I wear my wedding ring. I don't even wear my Super Bowl ring except for very special occasions.

1974 Memphis Southmen Central Division Champions ring.

WFL: After all of the financial problems from 1974, did you think the WFL would ever play the 1975 season?

DW: You know I did. I had a lot of confidence in John Bassett and in the owners of the World Football League that they would be able to get it together and keep it going. That was something completely out of my control, so I really didn't think about it too much. I fully believed in preparing to play that year.

WFL: Did you ever meet Elvis Presley while playing in Memphis?

DW: No, unfortunately I wish I could have. You know...If I had known now... known then what I know now a picture with Elvis would have been priceless. It certainly would have a special place on my wall, but unfortunately I never got a chance to meet him.

WFL: Tell us about the 1975 training camp with the addition of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to the team?

DW: Well it just lit everybody up... you know I mean we were just all...everybody had one eye on what we were doing and another eye on one of those guys just to kind of follow them around to kind of see what...because they had been at the very pinnacle of the game of football which all of us were kind of inspiring to become, and when you got a guy like that around you, if you're smart, you pay real close attention to what they do...how they carry themselves and... so it was a real shot in the arm for all of us.

WFL: Did Csonka, Kiick & Warfield fit in immediately?

DW: Oh yeah...there was no way they weren't going to fit in. The players were going to make sure of that.

WFL: We interviewed Memphis Southmen WR Ed Marshall and he said "when Danny came in, we really lit it up," Did you light it up?

DW: Well with guys like him...you know and Roger Wallace and Jack Ettinger...with the kind of receivers that we had...we had great running backs. We had a real offensive powerhouse, so I don't know if it was me as much as it was those guys, but I learn over the years as a quarterback...let them do their job...don't you try to be the hero. Frank Kush told me on my first game I started in college "look get the ball from center and give it to somebody without dropping it, and we'll be okay." That's the way it was in Memphis. We had that kind of team...just get it...give it to somebody without dropping it and let them do what they do best and Ed Marshall was a big, big part of that.

Danny White in a 1975 start against the Hawaiians at Memphis.

WFL: You took over as the starting QB in Week 7 of 1975 after John Huarte was injured. Which game stands out the most from the games you started?

DW: You know I really don't know. I can't say that one game stands out over the rest. They were all great games...they were all special games. I guess if we had won the championship I would say the championship game would have stand out, but we never got there. The rest is kind of a blur.

WFL: Week 11 of 1975, the Southmen were hosting the Birmingham Vulcans. There was controversy on the last play of the game when a pass from you to Ed Marshall that would have won the game was ruled incomplete that he appeared to have caught in the end zone. Do you remember that play, and in your opinion did he catch that pass?

DW: I do remember and in my opinion he did catch the ball and we should have won the game. If we had instant replay back then we would have won the game.

WFL: Annette Winters, Grizzlies assistant PR Director told me that Coach McVay had to be escorted off the field because he was chasing after the WFL Referees.

DW: Did he? (Laughing)

WFL: Tell us about the day you found out the World Football League was ceasing operations, and was there ever a time during the season when you thought it was over before, October 22, 1975?

DW: You know it came as a shock to me. I will never forget... that is one thing I will remember about that whole experience. We were actually out on the practice field and John McVay called us all together out on the field...we were warming up and he said "Gentlemen as of four o'clock today the league no longer exist' so pack up your bags and get ready to go home and we'll be in touch with you." That was how we found out.

WFL: After the WFL folded, John Bassett applied for a National Football League expansion team. Did you think there was a chance that the NFL would accept the Memphis bid?

DW: I thought there was. I think that Memphis is a great football town. I think that John Bassett would have been a great owner in the National Football League. So yeah I absolutely did. Everything seemed to be in place...and he personally help fund the league in that second year and helped some of the other owners. He paid all of us ...all of the money he owed us even though we didn't play those last games...which to me was an incredible sign of professionalism and integrity. Even though he probably didn't have too. Most of the owners didn't...he did.

WFL: John Bassett and the city of Memphis held an NFL-a-Thon to sell season ticket pledges in case the Grizzlies were accepted for the 1976 NFL season. You participated in that event. Can you tell us about that night?

DW: Well just that there was a lot of excitement and that maybe there was a silver lining in this cloud...you know the WFL folding and going away was something that affected a lot of people and maybe...you know maybe that there was a silver lining here, and we were all excited about the potential of Memphis getting an NFL team. I do remember that. It just seemed to be a real buzz amongst everybody about that possibility.

WFL: March of 1976, the NFL owners rejected the Memphis Southmen application for an NFL expansion team. Were you hoping to enter the NFL as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies?

DW: I don't know how that would have worked. That would have been a negotiation between John Bassett and the Cowboys of course. Because the Cowboys still had my rights in the NFL. Um...and...so somehow there would have had to been a trade made or something because Gil Brandt called me as soon as the league folded and said "were excited and we want you here, as soon as you can get here." So somehow there would have had to have been a trade for me to stay with Memphis.

WFL: If the Memphis Grizzlies had been awarded a National Football League expansion team, how well do you think the team would have performed during the 1976 NFL season?

DW: Well we already had three bonafide proven NFL players on the team and with that kind of leadership...you know anything could happen, so I think within a couple of years I think we would have been very competitive. There were other guys on that team that went on to play in the NFL, so we knew that we had NFL talent on the team. It's still tough...it's still very difficult to compete at that level, but it would have probably taken us a couple of years to get real competitive, but I don't think it would have taken long.

WFL: When were you contacted by the Dallas Cowboys and were you treated differently by the players or organization by coming over as a former WFL player?

You know I was treated very professionally. In fact Gil Brandt, when he actually called me and said we're going to increase your offer, we consider you a first-round draft choice. I was actually drafted in the third-round by the Cowboys...although I was the first quarterback drafted...and he called me and said we've up your status to a first-round draft choice, and so they treated me like something above a college player coming in, but you know obviously not a veteran, so I still had to go through all of the rookie initiations...you know carry ice for Roger (Staubach) back to his room and do some of that kind of stuff, but that was okay. I was happy to do it.

WFL: After the NFL denied Memphis, John Bassett continued his quest to gain an NFL expansion team. During the 1976 NFL pre-season, the Grizzlies sponsored the Dallas Cowboys �" Detroit Lions exhibition game. Did you play in this game and what was it like to be able to come back to Memphis during your rookie NFL season, and play in Memorial Stadium again?

You know I remember coming back to Memphis and how excited I was to play in front of our fans there. I don't remember anything about the game, but I do remember how great it felt...like a home game for me.

WFL: How would you summarize your experience in the World Football League and how did it help your career in the NFL, and as a head coach in the Arena Football League?

No question about it...you know it was a stepping stone for me. If I had not played in the WFL I would have spent six years as a backup. I doubt I would have still been in Dallas. As a matter of fact in the fourth year, I went to Coach Landry and said, Coach would you consider trading me somewhere where I can... I feel like I have been a backup long enough. I need to start playing, and he said well you know we will look around, but just...just be a little more patient with us, and sure enough....and Roger was...Roger was great about communicating with me and telling me this is going to be my last year, and you need to stay here. Everybody likes you here, so I really think those two years in Memphis were critical...critical years for me...from not only for an experience standpoint, but from the fact that I played those two years and I wasn't just sitting on the bench, so I think...in my memory they were two of the most important years of my career.

I want you to know I would have been at the reunion in Memphis if it had been on any other day. I hadn't seen my son in two years and I wasn't going to miss him coming home. Richie, I also want you to know I appreciate all that you're doing for the old guys of the WFL.

Danny White interview for the World Football League Web site with Richie Franklin at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia on October 13, 2012.

NOTE: The Danny White interview was conducted by Richie Franklin. This interview is Property of the World Football League Web site and may not be used without the written consent of the Website owners.