1974 WFL Team Pages
The Memphis Southmen
The Memphis Southmen became the focal point of the World Football League before the team ever played a single game. Even before the club became the Memphis Southmen. It all began rather unceremoniously: There was a napkin, a big figure and a tavern in Cleveland. And there was Ed Keating and Barry Frank, both of International Management Group, having lunch and a few drinks one winter day. How much would it take, Frank asked, to make Keating’s illustrious clients jump to an upstart outfit called the World Football League? Keating did some scribbling on a cocktail napkin and came up with $2.7 million.
Two months later, the Toronto Northmen (who would later become the Memphis Southmen) of the W.F.L. signed Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to a 3-year, $3.5 million contract. The Toronto Northmen and the WFL had arrived. Northmen owner John Basset sat in the conference room in New York City as Gary Davidson announced the first WFL franchises; New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Philadelphia and Washington. Davidson, standing before a bank of media representatives and cameras promised more franchises to come. He claimed the WFL was planning for twelve teams and international expansion.
The story of the Memphis Southmen began early in 1973 in Toronto, Canada. Owner John Bassett Jr, the 35-year old vice president of CFTO Television, decided to purchase a WFL franchise for the city. Bassett was well versed in the operation of professional sports teams, he owned the Toronto Toros of the WHA and was a member of the board of directors for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Bassett’s first move was to hire Leo Cahill as General Manager of the Northmen.
Leo Cahill was born in Utica, Illinois and began his football career as a coach with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Cahill went on to coach the Toronto Rifles of the Continental Football League as again in the Canadian league with the Toronto Argonauts. Cahill was thought of as a brilliant evaluator of football talent and a great presence for the new team.
The Canadian Parliament was not so impressed by the invasion of the league and its new millionaires. On March 27th, in Ottawa, Canada, Health Minister Marc Lalonde introduced in the House of Commons legislation barring the United States from professional football in Canada. The legislation was introduced after talks with Northmen owner John Bassett Jr. failed to persuade the transfer of his WFL franchise from Toronto. Lalonde told the House that he feared the presence of professional football would harm the Canadian Football League. Before playing a game the Northmen were forced out of Canada and into the waiting arms of Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis, Bassett was hit by a lawsuit filed by Mike Lynn, who for years had tried to secure a NFL franchise for the city. Lynn’s attorneys filed the suit shortly after Bassett signed a lease for Memorial Stadium. The WFL move to Memphis was official. The team was renamed the "Southmen" and Bassett selected a growling bear in front of a rising sun as the teams logo. Memphis had been the location of R. Steven Arnold’s franchise, but when Memphis was shunned by the NFL elite in the 1976 expansion selection, the city welcomed John Basset and his staff.
With Csonka, Kiick and Warfield due for delivery in 1975, Bassett got to work to create his team for 1974.
Cahill selected John McVay as Coach. McVay coached at the University of Dayton for 10 years before coming to the WFL. A native of Massillon, Ohio, McVay also played football for the University at Miami of Ohio. McVay assembled a talented coaching staff that included; Joe Eaglowski (Defensive Line), Jim Roundtree (Defensive Backfield), Jay Fry (offensive Line), and Bob Gibson (Offensive Backfield).
Coach John McVay looked over the Southmen roster and was pleased with the results. Some of the players he was excited about were rookies Danny White, Lucious Selmon, J.J. Jennings, Paul Miles and Jim Ettinger. The Southmen quarterback position went to veteran John Huarte, with White as the understudy. Huarte who won the Heisman Trophy in 1964 while at Notre Dame joined the WFL after a year off from football. The running game was led by ex-CFL star John Harvey, rookie Jennings (who led the nation in scoring with 128 points and 21 touchdowns), and the duo of Paul Miles and Willie Spencer. At wide receiver Jim Ettinger gave the Southmen a strong target, and small 5-foot-5 Ed Marshall ended the season leading most receivers in the WFL.
The Southmen defense was led by rookie Selmon, Festus Cotton (from Cleveland of the NFL), Steve Booras, and the secondary of Dick Thornton and Herb Marshall- both from the CFL.
On July 10, 1974 after being exiled from Canada, the Memphis Southmen took the field to the thundering roar of 30,122 fans. Professional football had arrived in Memphis. The Southmen hosted the Detroit Wheels, a team that featured Bubba Wyche, a talented quarterback who was all too familiar with Leo Cahill from his days with Saskatchewan in the CFL. Memphis knew that they would have to keep Wyche under pressure and stop the running of Jesse Mims and Sam Scarber. The rough and ready Memphis defense did just that, shutting down Detroit to only 56 yards rushing. Running back J.J. Jennings, who would later become the first 1,000-yard W.F.L. rusher, ripped through the Wheel defense for 99 yards and a touchdown. After the game, Head coach John McVay couldn’t have been happier with his teams’ 34-15 win. The Southmen gained 21 first downs to Detroit’s 11, and 207 rushing yards to the Wheels’ 56. Quarterback, a former Heisman trophy winner, John Huarte completed 9 of 16 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown.
Winning would become a Memphis tradition, as the club set a record for the most wins in a season and the leagues longest winning streak (11 games).
In Memphis, the locals were referring to the team as the "Grizzlies" for the logo of a growling grizzly bear on their helmets. After opening the season with a decisive win over Detroit, Memphis set their sights on the Portland Storm. The Storm, coming off a 33-8 loss to Philadelphia were humiliated in the "City of Brotherly Love" and Coach Dick Coury told reporters the loss to the Bell was a "total team effort", and that he expected a "two hundred percent improvement" against Memphis.
31,088 fans jammed Memorial Stadium as John Huarte enjoyed one of his finest games throwing for two touchdowns as Memphis defeated Portland 16-8. Huarte, a 31-year old former Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, hit 15 of 24 passes for 197 yards. At half time country music singer Charlie Rich, "The Silver Fox", performed "Behind Closed Doors" at mid-field and the Southmen fans shouted and sang along. Behind closed doors in the Portland locker room head coach Dick Coury was anything but entertaining as he tried to motivate his club against a tough Memphis team. In the third quarter, Memphis was once again dominating. The "Grizzlies" punished the Storm, just as they did Detroit. Memphis had a total of 22 first downs to Portland’s 12, 157 yards rushing to Portland’s 87, and also intercepted two of Greg Barton’s passes. The local news media and press began jumping on the "Grizzly" bandwagon. The defense had again kept the opposition to minimal points and yardage, and the offense moved the ball well. Memphis was 2-0.
At 2-0 the Southmen faced their arch rivals, the Birmingham Americans for the bragging rights to southern football superiority. This game marked a rivalry that would become as bitter as any in the W.F.L. The Americans and their 61,000 Legion Field fans proved to be too much for the Memphis squad as the "Grizzlies" played "catch-up" football the entire night on their way to a 58-33 loss.
On August 1, 1974 the Southmen returned home to face the Southern California Sun. Coming into the game with the Memphis running back John Harvey led the "Grizzlies" in rushing with 211 yards, followed by J.J. Jennings with 172. Quarterback John Huarte was completing 54% of his passes and rookie back-up Danny White was 6 of 8 for 83 yards. Receivers Gary Shirk and Ed Marshall gained a total 327 yards and three touchdowns.
The Memphis defense was dominating teams (except for Birmingham) and recorded an incredible 14 interceptions (5 by David Thomas). The defense would be put to the test with Sun quarterback Tony Adams and the running of Kermit Johnson and James Mc Alister.
The "Grizzlies" drew another good crowd of 25,176 at Memorial Stadium. Coach John McVay started only two rookies on the offensive line to give his quarterback John Huarte time to execute drives and give the running game more protection. On first-and-20 Huarte called for a draw play that left the Sun defenders out of position. Running back John Harvey blew up the middle to the Sun eight yard line. Two plays later, Willie Spencer scored from the 2-yard line and Memphis had an 18-15 lead. Then the defense struck. Tom Beckman intercepted a Tony Adams pass on the first series after the touchdown and returned it to the Sun 18 after being tackled from behind. On third-and-four John Huarte hit 5-foot-5 Ed Marshall over the middle at the Sun 4. J.J. Jennings knocked down to Sun defenders on his way to the end zone for a touchdown. With the Memphis fans on their feet the Southmen had a 25-15 lead and went on to win the game.
With a 3-1 record the "Grizzlies" embarked on a two-game road trip to Philadelphia and Detroit. In Philadelphia, the Bell, hot off the "Papergate" scandal, erupted for 46 points and a 30-0 half time lead, as "King" Corcoran threw four touchdowns to lead the Bell to a 46-15 rout over Memphis. After the game McVay told reporters, "We have to win on the road. Tonight we couldn’t do anything, we were terrible. The Bell pushed us around and we were never in the game." The Memphis defense had given up 104 points during the teams’ road games in Philadelphia and Birmingham and McVay promised different results next week against the Detroit Wheels.
In Ypsilanti, Michigan reports were circulating that the Wheels, only six weeks into the WFL season, were experiencing financial problems. On the field the Wheels were 0-5 and facing an angry "Grizzlies" defense. 14,424 fans watched as Memphis tore open the Wheels, exploding for a 37-7 rout over Detroit. The first quarter was close, ending with Memphis leading 8-7. In the second quarter, the "Grizzlies" geared up the running game as Willie Spencer scored twice and J.J. Jennings gained 113 yards. The defense also performed well. The front four of Tom Beckman, Festus Cotton, John LeHeup and William Stevenson dominated the line of scrimmage and kept Detroit’s offense in check from any big plays and cornerback David Thomas intercepted a pass and ran for a 39 yard touchdown. Many fans in the west grandstand spent the second half tossing an orange Frisbee, and good catches were greeted with the night’s loudest cheers. Memphis out rushed the Wheels 279 to 134, on their way to a 4-2 record.
In the WFL’s Central Division playing well wasn’t enough. The Birmingham Americans were undefeated and showed no signs of slowing down. Led by veteran quarterback George Mira the Americans were 6-0 and one of the toughest teams in the WFL. The Chicago Fire was also tearing up the WFL. Quarterback Virgil Carter was shredding defenses with his passing, and running back Mark Kellar was bull-dozing his way to countless touchdowns. Coach John McVay knew that consistency would be the key to the "Grizzlies" success in such a tough division. McVay and his staff planned to get the veterans playing well and substitute in rookies for experience. With the WFL season 20 games long depth in the roster would be essential.
25,123 fans came out as Memphis set a WFL record for most points scored by one team in a 60-8 rout of the Hawaiians. The "Grizzlies" exploded for 21 points in the first quarter as John Huarte threw three touchdown passes, two to Ed Marshall and one to J.J. Jennings. The defense also got in the game with Dick Thornton and Bobby Majors returning interceptions for touchdowns. The Southmen led 39-0 at half time and 53-8 going into the fourth quarter. The "Grizzlies" were 5-2.
After the Hawaii game, the "Grizzlies" boarded a plane bound for Orlando, Florida for a game against the Florida Blazers. Florida was in first place in the Eastern Division with a 6-1 won-lost record and the "Grizzlies" were keeping pace with Chicago and Birmingham in the WFL’s Central Division. John McVay brought to Orlando an offensive team that averaging 364 yards a game and 31.4 points a game. Behind the hard-charging of running back John Harvey (18 carries for 135 yards) and rookie phenom J.J. Jennings (18 carries for 73 yards) the Memphis stung the Florida defense (number one in the WFL) for 251 yards rushing. The running attack opened up the airways for John Huarte who completed 12 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The "Grizzlies" jumped out to 18-10 lead at half time, much to the disappointment of the 17,000 Blazer fans, and never looked back until late in the game. In the third quarter, Memphis added another touchdown. Quarterback John Huarte calmly led the Southmen 96 yards in 15 plays. John Harvey and JJ Jennings plowed down to the Blazer 37, where on third and 12 Huarte found Ed Marshall for 18 yards and a first down. Then rookie Willie Spencer crashed through the Blazer defensive line for a 26-10 Memphis lead.
With time dwindling in the fourth, Bob Davis began attacking the WFL’s lowest rated pass defense. Florida’s receiving corps was reinforced with Hubie Bryant and Gary Collins, and led the Blazers on a 6-play 64-yard drive that ended with Davis hitting Collins in the end zone to cut the Memphis lead to 26-18. With Florida again threatening, after a bad Southmen punt, quarterback Bob Davis drove the team down the field into Memphis territory. The 17,000 Blazer fans were on their feet as Florida alternated between Tommy Reamon running seeps behind the blocking of Jim Strong and Davis throwing to his receivers. With: 44 seconds remaining, Bob Davis and the Blazers awaited the play from offensive coach Dick Quick. The crowd was on its feet. The sounds of screaming fans, horns, and clapping filled the air around the Tangerine Bowl. The Blazers gathered together for the huddle. Bob Davis looked up at the Blazer players, "OK guys here it is…….let’s finish the job." Davis called a pass play to Hubie Bryant. Calling the signals, Davis took the snap and dropped back against a fierce pass rush from Festus Cotton and John LeHeup. Davis looked left, then right and threw a pass to the sideline intended for Bryant. As Bryant turned for the pass, Memphis cornerback Dick "The Trick" Thornton jumped in front of Bryant for the interception to clinch the victory.
Southmen coach John McVay told the press after the game, "This was a great football game in every aspect- lots of exciting plays for the fans, some suspense and virtually no dull moments. But then again this is a good solid league." When reporters asked if the WFL compared to the AFL McVay snorted, "There’s no comparison. We’re way ahead in all respects. The WFL is exciting and tonight’s game is the perfect example. Our league is well-organized, well founded and well-run. It’ll get better too."
The "Grizzlies" posted a 6-2 won-lost record and were becoming one of the most dangerous offensive and defensive teams in the WFL. Memphis continued to push through the season with a 16-13 victory in Jacksonville against the Sharks, and a home win over the Houston Texans 45-0. The Southmen defense was stifling all evening and never let Houston past the 50 yard line until late in the game. The victory over the Texans, coupled with Chicago’s loss to Birmingham put Memphis into second place with a 8-2 record.
On September 11, 1974 the Southmen (8-2) faced the first place Birmingham Americans (10-0) in Memphis. Earlier in the season Birmingham laid a whipping on the Memphis team (58-33) that was not quickly forgotten. In the local press the Southmen players promised that revenge. "The Southmen shall rise again" was the city’s battle cry, and it flew on several home-made banners at Memorial Stadium. 30,675 fans, that sounded more like 100,000, packed Memorial Stadium. From the opening kickoff Memphis had something to prove. John Huarte quickly moved the Southmen downfield, and rookie Willie Spencer bolted in for a one yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. After a Birmingham punt, the Southmen came right back. Again Haurte hit Ed Marshall and Gary Shirk with short passes and the running game tore through the Americans front four. On a draw play, J.J. Jennings ran up the middle and Memphis had a 14-0 lead. Memphis added another score when Gary Shirk caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Huarte, the action point was good and the rout was on 22-0. The Americans added a score before the half and cut the lead to 22-7.
In the Americans locker room, the players rallied behind Coach Jack Gotta who preached, "My old man didn’t raise a quitter! Get back in it!" When the Americans took the field the Southmen were ready- and they could smell blood. Matthew Reed, in for the ineffective George Mira, dropped back to pass and threw an interception into the out-stretched hands of Memphis' Dick Thornton, who ran the ball back to the Americans’ 48. On second down, John Harvey took a pitchout, started wide, then pulled up and arched a pass to Ed Marshall, all alone behind the Birmingham secondary for another Memphis touchdown. Marshall also caught the action point to make it 30-7 Southmen. The thundering crowd of 30,000 exploded as the Southmen moved the ball at will and dominated the WFL's unbeaten Birmingham Americans.
The Southmen were visibly gaining their stride in the WFL. In the Central Division, Birmingham was in first place with a 10-1 record, then Memphis at 9-2, and Chicago at 7-4.
Memphis traveled to Chicago to take on the Fire. Coming into the game the Fire had injuries to several "key" players. Running back Mark Kellar was out of the game with an injured foot and wide receiver James Scott tore knee ligaments and was out for the season. On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Joe Womack was injured and the Fire-men found themselves in a three-game losing streak. Memphis would go on to defeat the Fire 25-7. The game was never close. The "Grizzlies" used a ball control offense to dominate possession time and ware out an already weary Chicago defense. The loss was particularly painful for Chicago as star quarterback Virgil Carter was lost for the season with a hand injury. JJ Jennings ran for 132 yards on 20 carries, as Memphis ran up a 15-0 lead at halftime and never looked back. Memphis improved to 10-2, Chicago fell to 7-5.
The "Grizzlies" victory march continued to the new WFL city of Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport was the new home of the Houston Texans, who were all but ignored in Texas. The Steamer welcomed over 20,000 fans to State Fair Stadium to watch the Southmen. Memphis started rookie Danny White, for the injured John Huarte, and he completed 14 of 27 passes for 170 yards to lead the Southmen to a 17-3 win over the Steamer. The defense allowed a Steamer field goal in the first quarter ad then shut down Shreveport to minimal yardage in the second half.
At 11-2, the Southmen began to dominate the WFL. The offense was threatening with John Huarte at quarterback, and rookie Danny White was quickly proving he was a top notch prospect. The Southmen running game was one of the best in the league. JJ Jennings, Willie Spencer, John Harvey and Paul Miles all ran through opposing defenses, and when the running game stalled receivers Ed Marshall, Roger Wallace and Gary Shirk were hauling in passes. A disappointing crowd of 15,000 filled Memorial Stadium as rookie Willie Spencer scored five touchdowns, tying a WFL record, and Memphis bombed Jacksonville 47-19. Spencer gained 137 yards on 20 carries.
The Southmen traveled to another new WFL city, Charlotte, North Carolina. The New York Stars transferred to the Carolina city and Memphis gave them an unfriendly welcome defeating the "Charlotte Stars" 27-23. It was their tenth win in a row.
Victory number eleven. Memphis, Tennessee. Owner John Bassett sat high above Memorial Stadium looking over the empty seats. Bassett must have been wondering how much more it would take to bring the fans to the stadium in better numbers.
Only 15,000 sat scattered around Memorial Stadium as the Southmen continued their victory march 25-15 over the Florida Blazers. Quarterback John Haurte, playing after a three game absence, passes for 212 yards and a touchdown as Memphis sped out to a 18-0 lead and held the Blazers in check the rest of the game.
As the WFL suffered from mounting financial problems and a storm of bad press. Memphis took their juggernaut to Portland, Oregon. The Portland Storm, consistently improving over the season, was a team that was suffering from financial problems. The players hadn’t been paid for two weeks and the crowds were dwindling despite the teams’ winning efforts. The game was nationally televised as TVS’ "Game of the Week" and from Portland about 13,000 Storm fans watched from the stands. What they were about to see was unbelievable.
The Storm took the field charging with Coach Dick Coury leading the way. The fans, 13,228, sounded more like 30,000 as the team warmed up for the opening kickoff. The Southmen, in their burnt orange road uniforms, looked up at the threatening skies and should’ve considered it an omen. On the Storms’ first series Pete Bethard hit Jon Baker for a 32-yard touchdown pass and a 8-0 lead after the action point. With Portland leading early the "Grizzlies" got a big play when Tim Beamer returned a punt 82 yards for a Memphis touchdown. The action point failed and Portland led 8-7.
At half time the Storm held a 15-14 lead. In the third quarter the teams traded field goals and the score was 18-17 Portland. The Storm started on another march downfield. Quarterback Pete Beathard picked apart the Southmen secondary for short passes and Rufus Ferguson galloped past the defensive line. The drive ended when Ferguson broke a tackle in the backfield, spun around, and ran twelve yards for a Portland touchdown and a 25-17 lead. The Storm fans went wild. Ken Patrick added the action point and the Storm led 26-17.
The Memphis winning streak was on the line. Coach John McVay and his staff quickly designed plays to get the Southmen one last chance at a touchdown and then, possibly, an on-sides kick. Memphis calmly put together a drive led by rookie Danny White, that drove them to the Storm 2 yard line. White then hit Ed Marshall with a touchdown pass to cut the lead to 26-24. The two teams lined up for the action point. White called the signals dropped back and hit a diving Roger Wallace in the end zone to cut the Portland lead to 26-25. The Civic Stadium crowd was silenced. With only seconds remaining the Southmen lined up for an on-sides kick. Jim Ettinger kicked the ball, which bounced end-over-end through a pile of Storm and Southmen players, and was miraculously recovered by Memphis. Coach John McVay sent out the kicking team to attempt a 48 yard field goal. The chaos of the moment Portland players and fans were in shock. Players quickly shifted into position. Ettinger, head hung to the ground, awaited the snap. Danny White called the signals. As the lines crashed into each other, Storm players strained with out-stretched hands. Ettinger followed through on the kick, which sailed over the wall of Storm and Southmen players, towards the goal posts. John McVay strained to see the flight of the ball, Dick Coury quietly watched and waited. A collective "sigh" rang out as the ball traveled through the night air and floated wide right of the goal posts. The fans exploded through the silence, the Memphis winning streak was over.
As the Southmen prepared for their game against Hawaii, news around the WFL was not encouraging. Detroit and Jacksonville were long gone. Reports circulated that the Chicago Fire wouldn’t continue next year. New York had moved to Charlotte, Birmingham, Florida, Portland, Hawaii, and Southern California had all missed payrolls and were facing mounting debts. Many football insiders even wondered if the WFL would exist in 1975.
During a league meeting in Chicago, Fire owner Tom Origer told the league he was quitting the WFL. The Fire had fallen on hard times. Losers of eight games in a row, and the victims of many incredible injuries to star players, the Fire had become a shadow of the team that had begun the season at 7-2. Origer had suffered losses of $800,000 and was not interested in continuing at the same pace. Origer did make one last plea with the WFL governors, "End the season now, declare Memphis the champions, and regroup for the 1975 season." The proposal was voted down. At the last minute the Fire was kept in the WFL when Memphis owner John Bassett, Philadelphia owner John Bosacco and Hawaii owner Sam Battistone delivered a $150,000 line of credit to Origer. The move would prove to be futile.
On the field, the winning streak had come to an end at eleven. Memphis traveled out to the islands of Hawaii on Halloween night and defeated the Hawaiians 33-31.
The Southmen then returned home and before 14,085 fans faced the Chicago Fire. Chicago, in the grasp of a nine-game losing streak, had suffered through several major injuries that left the team a shadow of its former self. Chicago did boast former NFL great, running back Leroy Kelly. Kelly would rush for 52 yards but it wasn't enough. Memphis used a crushing defense to limit Fire field position, and in the first quarter Southmen defense end Cecil Pryor burst through the Fire offensive line and crushed quarterback Bubba Wyche sending him to the sidelines with a sprained ankle. Wyche's replacement, Bill Cappelman, threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns but nothing could keep Chicago even with Memphis. Memphis' strong running attack featuring JJ Jennings, John Harvey and Paul Miles to run roughshod over the Fire for 194 yards. Ex-Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte victimized Chicago's sad secondary for 6 of 10 passes for 93 yards before yielding to rookie Danny White in the third period. White completed 7 of 9 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown to lead Memphis. The Fire actually led early in the second quarter, 16-10, when Cyril Pinder ran 59 yards for a touchdown, but minutes later he fumbled at the Chicago six and the rout was on. Memphis answered with a John Harvey 2-yard touchdown run, and a JJ Jennings 4-yard touchdown run, for a 25-16 lead. Then the Southmen defense struck again, blocking a field goal attempt by Fire kicker Alan Watson that gave Memphis the ball on the Chicago 30. On the next play, John Harvey burst through the right side of the Chicago line, down the sidelines for a touchdown and a 33-16 Memphis lead. The Southmen went on to rout Chicago 49-24. Memphis was 16-3.
The last week of the WFL regular season the "Grizzlies" led the WFL in total offense, rushing offense, rushing defense and scoring offense. The Southmen signed former All-American Notre Dame Safety Mike Townsend from the defunct Jacksonville Sharks to bolster a secondary suffering from injuries to Merl Code and Seth Miller. On the field, the Southmen defeated the Charlotte Hornets 28-22. The smallest crowd of the year 13,339 came out to watch the playoff bound Memphis club. As the World Football League season came to an end many fans, including those in Memphis, wondered if there would be a playoff. Southmen owner John Basset suggested that Memphis play the winner of a Florida-Birmingham contest to determine the WFL champion. The Blazers had just beaten the Southern California Sun a week earlier on the last day of the regular season, and league officials were looking for a cheap, yet logical manner in which to determine a Champion. As it turned out Basset should have accepted the trophy and headed back to Canada.
After several proposed playoff formats, the league finally agreed on a format. The "Grizzlies" drew a first round bye in the WFL playoffs. Their 17-3 record (best in the WFL) earned them the right to await the winner of the Florida-Philadelphia contest in Orlando. Florida scored an easy 18-3 win.
In Memphis, Tennessee, a steady rain fell as the Southmen and the Blazers awaited their game. WFL officials were concerned the rushed nature of the playoffs, and the weather, would keep attendance down. Only 9,692 fans showed up for the game. Terry Lee, a Memphis official, blamed the poor crowd on the fact that the game was quickly put together and felt the league was to blame. On the field, the Blazers came back from a 15-0 deficit to score 18 points behind a little-know, obscure quarterback named Buddy Palazzo and a rookie running back named Richard James. Trailing, 15-11, Florida was forced to punt on their own 37 with 3:15 left to play. Dave Strock boomed a punt that sailed into the arms of David Thomas. Thomas took off with the ball but fumbled the ball. Blazer Luther Palmer recovered the ball at the Memphis 22. Four plays later, Richard James ran through a stunned Southmen defense for a 18-15 lead. Palazzo dropped back to pass for the action point, and was intercepted by David Thomas to make it a three point game. Memphis quarterback John Huarte guided the Southmen back using his timeouts, and out patterns to his receivers at the sidelines to move Memphis to the Blazer 24 with: 07 remaining. Memphis was out of time outs but a Southmen player was down on the ground giving kicker Bob Etter time to line up for a potential 40-yard game tying field goal. As the crowd rose to its feet, Southmen coach John McVay awaited the snap. Ralph Hill snapped the ball and Etter approached for the kick. Through the line came huge Blazer defensive end Louis Ross, and as Etter kicked the ball Ross dove into the air and deflected the kick, sending to the turf of Memorial Stadium. The Southmen, the WFL's most winnings team, was defeated and eliminated from the playoffs.
NOTE: The 1974 Memphis Southmen team page was researched and written by Jim Cusano. This page appeared on the former World Football League Hall of Fame Website and is used with permission.
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