Clarence Saunders’ Sole Owner Tigers are not Memphis’s only defunct football program. In 1974, the Southmen came to town as part of the World Football League. The Southmen began as the Toronto Northmen; however, the Canadian Prime Minister was concerned about having American expansion teams compete with the Canadian Football League for viewers. He had a bill introduced which prohibited professional American football programs from playing in Canada. The team came to Memphis and changed their name to the Southmen, a name which most Memphians disliked. Fans called them the Grizzlies. The WFL collapsed in 1975 in the middle of the Grizzlies second season. The team owners pulled off a successful season ticket drive in an effort to convince the NFL to accept the Southmen as an expansion team. The NFL refused.
Memphis’s next professional football franchise was the Memphis Showboats, a team of the also short lived United States Football League. Initially, the USFL played its season during the NFL’s off season. The Showboats were an expansion team that came to town in 1985 and generated a fan following. Officials even covered some of the city buses with showboat facades. Despite the fan’s support, the team folded in 1986 when the USFL did not survive its attempt to compete directly with the NFL’s fall season.
Next up were the Memphis Mad Dogs, an expansion of the Canadian Football League, which only lasted for the 1995 season. They were able to draw some crowds to the Liberty Bowl during summer games, but the CFL was unable to compete with the American college football season. The Mad Dogs folded ten months after it was created.
In October 1995, the Memphis Pharaohs started up as an expansion team of the Arena Football League. They had the honor of being the first professional sport franchise to call the Memphis Pyramid home. The owners kept the team in Memphis for two seasons before moving to Portland, Oregon. Two years later, the NFL’s Tennessee Oilers called the Liberty Bowl home before moving to their permanent base in Nashville in 1998 and renaming themselves the Titans.
Most recently, the Memphis Maniax took part in the Extreme Football League (XLF). The XLF was a joint venture by the World Wrestling Federation and NBC. The target audience was young male viewers, who were encouraged to watch by screaming announcers, boisterous nicknames and changed rules. The league and the team only survived the 2001 season.
Information for this post came from Kiss ‘Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed, Forgotten, and Departed Teams by Dennis Purdy, The Business of Sports by Scott Rosner and Kenneth Shropshire, and www.funwhileitlasted.net.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.