SI Vault
Robert F. Jones
July 28, 1975
Ex-Dolphins Csonka, Kiick and Warfield and their three new Caddys have made the big switch to the Memphis Grizzlies. As exhibition games began, they demolished their first foe: Technicolor pants
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July 28, 1975

They're Grinning And Bearing

Ex-Dolphins Csonka, Kiick and Warfield and their three new Caddys have made the big switch to the Memphis Grizzlies. As exhibition games began, they demolished their first foe: Technicolor pants

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Wherever Butch and Sundance go there's bound to be trouble," said Larry Csonka. "I wonder what it'll be this time?" He grinned hugely at the prospect. Crouched behind the wheel of his spanking-new silver Cadillac Seville, his raw-knuckled hands clenching and unclenching, eyes flashing, mustache abristle below that flattened, much-fractured monument of a nose, Csonka indeed came across as the reincarnation of a 19th century desperado heading off for some new and outrageous adventure.

In point of fact, he was. Before the week was out, Csonka, the Sundance Kid, and his pals, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield, would be deeply embroiled in a serio-comic battle of wills with their new employers, the Memphis Southmen, and with the high management of the World Football League over whether to wear or not to wear some exceedingly fancy pants. Questions of taste and matters of pride would boil up in the pants dispute and there would be sharp debates about color schemes and player reflexes, a lot of bad jokes and super-heavy sarcasm. A couple of fascinating if somewhat sloppily played exhibition games also took place during the week, so that all in all one had a clue or two to the answers to questions many pro football fans have asked since Csonka, Kiick and War-field left the Miami Dolphins to join the WFL. Will the $3.5 million triumvirate be happy in their new home? Will their new home be happy with them? And will the WFL survive?

The answers: Yes. Yes. Who can tell?

At the moment, though, Csonka was driving from Memphis to Senatobia, Miss., 40 miles down the road, to rejoin the Southmen in training camp. Behind him lay 2� weeks of hard work in the sultry sun of northern Mississippi, not to mention an ignominious defeat on the West Coast the night before in his first outing as a "Grizzly"—an alternative appellation for the Southmen, who started life last year as the Toronto Northmen but never played there. (Memphians distinctly prefer Grizzlies to Southmen.)

The 47-16 loss had come at the hot hand of another NFL transplant, the Southern California Sun's new quarterback, Daryle Lamonica, late of the Oakland Raiders, and the flashing feet of Anthony Davis, the USC hotshot whose feet were deemed not quite flashing enough by the NFL. Abetted by Lamonica's thread-needle passing, Davis scored four touchdowns and ran for 56 yards. By contrast, Csonka gained just 12 yards in four carries, Kiick a scant three in five rushes, while Warfield caught a single pass for 28 yards. The only other Grizzly with an instant identification rating is quarterback John Huarte, the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame who kicked around as backup to the likes of Joe Namath and Len Dawson for nine years. Huarte did not have a good night with his side-arm delivery, throwing two interceptions. That, together with sluggish timing, blown blocks and tackles, plus the Grizzlies' inability to get out of their own way, caused many of the 24,610 onlookers at Anaheim to wonder how Memphis could have managed a 17-3 record last year, the best in the WFL's maiden season. Certainly the transmogrified Dolphins did not appear ready to stand the new league on its ear all by their threesome.

The team flew from Anaheim to Memphis on a one-stop charter "red eye" immediately after the Sun game, but that, it was explained, was as much to get ready for the exhibition on Saturday as to avoid an extra night's hotel bill. When it came to the amenities, Memphis turned out to be not much different from most NFL teams: the food was excellent and came in great quantities; the equipment, medication and transportation were fully sufficient; only the dormitories were Spartan. When Csonka and Kiick discovered there was no TV in their room, they went to the Western Auto store in Senatobia and bargained for a portable. "I knocked the guy down $20 on the price," Zonk said proudly. "What's more, we didn't have the cash on us. But he gave us credit until next payday. Try that in New York or Miami."

South of Memphis, the Mississippi scenery rolled by, green and undulate. Loblolly pines, soybean fields. Thick coverts awhistle with bobwhite quail. Slow brown creeks and backwaters where kids in straw hats fished for bream with cane poles. A far cry from the Miami training camp where the Dolphins work.

Csonka's silver Seville—Kiick got a brown one with beige stripes, and Warfield a conservative navy-blue model as part of the deal—cornered sedately into downtown Senatobia: a pleasant town of less than 4,000, full of pickup trucks and men in overalls with quids of Red Man in their sunburned cheeks, plump but pretty girls in (believe it or not) summer dresses, even a store called Varner's, as if Bill Faulkner had just stopped by for a cold Dr Pepper. Or something. No one paid much attention to the Caddy. Zonk maneuvered his way onto the campus of Northwest Junior College and past a building by the name of Bobo Hall. A gaggle of lovely black and white coeds gave him fluttery-lidded looks.

Outside the cool vault of the car it was 97� and humid enough to float a stern-wheeler. That scarcely discouraged young Mike and John Hilger of West Helena, Ark., who had journeyed across the Father of Waters in search of autographs. They descended on Zonk, be-freckled outriders of a pygmy mob that soon had the fullback half buried in pens and cheap notebooks. Zonk tried to keep his pleasure hidden under a deadpan gaze, but his eyes were a giveaway. It was one of the benefits not listed in the contract.

In the workout, hard and pounding in the blaze of late afternoon, the Grizzlies looked better coordinated than they had against the Sun. Coach John McVay, 44, a somber, sunken-eyed defensive expert with credentials from Miami of Ohio ("The Cradle of Coaches") and a splendid record at the University of Dayton, emanated unhappy vibes and the players seemed to pick up on them. "Coaches are all alike," Zonk had said earlier. " Shula would fine you, but that was secondary. It was the disapproval that bothered you and motivated you." Though he did not compare McVay with Don Shula in so many words, it was clear that pro football was pro football and that the same rules prevailed here, too, if on a lower, less intense key. At one point during the drill, Joe Eaglowski, the stocky, usually benign defensive line coach, exploded in wrath at a bumbled play: "Dammit, kick 'em in the cashews, anything, but get free!"

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