Leo Lyons (American football)
Leo V. Lyons was a co-founder of the National Football League
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

. He was a player, manager,coach and owner of the Rochester Jeffersons
Rochester Jeffersons
The Rochester Jeffersons from Rochester, New York played in the National Football League from 1920 to 1925.Formed as an amateur outfit by a rag-tag group of Rochester-area teenagers after the turn of the century , the team became known as the Jeffersons in reference to the locale of their playing...

 from 1908 to 1925.

Early career

Lyons started out as a 16 year old player, in 1908, for the Rochester Jeffersons semi-pro football team. By 1910, he was manager as well as a player of the team, who guided the Jeffersons to the Rochester
Rochester, New York
Rochester is a city in Monroe County, New York, south of Lake Ontario in the United States. Known as The World's Image Centre, it was also once known as The Flour City, and more recently as The Flower City...

 city championship. As a manager, Leo recruited one of pro football's first African-American players, Henry McDonald
Henry McDonald (American football)
Henry C. McDonald was a professional American football player for the Rochester Jeffersons from 1911 until 1917. He was one of the best known African-American pro players during the era prior to the formation of the National Football League in 1920.-Early life:He was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,...


Manager and owner

Years later, Leo became owner of the team. By the time the Jeffersons were an NFL team, Leo served the team as a manager, owner, photographer, doctor, counselor, financier, field worker, game booker, agent, and scout. He also was the manager of a basketball
Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules...

 team, comprising his football players, to keep the team in shape. Lyons developed big ambitions for the team. He took the Jeffersons to Canton, Ohio
Canton, Ohio
Canton is the county seat of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, approximately south of Akron and south of Cleveland.The City of Caton is the largest incorporated area within the Canton-Massillon Metropolitan Statistical Area...

, early in the 1917 season to play the Canton Bulldogs
Canton Bulldogs
The Canton Bulldogs were a professional American football team, based in Canton, Ohio. They played in the Ohio League from 1903 to 1906 and 1911 to 1919, and its successor, the National Football League, from 1920 to 1923 and again from 1925 to 1926. The Bulldogs would go on to win the 1917, 1918...

, led by Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe
Jacobus Franciscus "Jim" Thorpe * Gerasimo and Whiteley. pg. 28 * americaslibrary.gov, accessed April 23, 2007. was an American athlete of mixed ancestry...

. Canton won the game easily, 41-0. However this led Lyons to study and adopt the Bulldogs way of recruiting and playing. In 1919, he brought in some outside players and the Jeffersons won the city semi-pro championship with ease.

Forming the NFL

On September 17, 1920, Lyons represented Rochester at a meeting of the nation's leading pro football team managers held in Canton, for the purpose of creating the American Professional Football Association (later known as the National Football League in 1922). The Jeffersons were charter members of the organization and played in the league from 1920-25.

Forfeit controversy

On December 5, 1921, a game was scheduled between the Jeffersons and the Washington Senators
Washington Senators (NFL)
Washington Senators, also referred to as the Washington Pros or Washington Presidents, was a professional football club from Washington, D.C.. The team played in the American Professional Football Association during the 1921 season, and continued to operate as a football club until 1941...

. Lyons refused to play the game. It has been said by some that Lyons forfeited the game because of snowy conditions. However according to Lyons, the Senators had a poor fan turnout due to a snowstorm and said they would only pay the Jefferson team roughly $200. That amount would not allow for the team to be paid to play the game, or travel expenses for the trip back to Rochester. The game had an NFL guarantee that the Jeffersons must be paid $800 for the game regardless of anything. Lyons refused to play the game because of Washington not paying the $800 that was in the game contract. Later, NFL commissioner Joseph Carr
Joseph Carr
Joseph "Joe" F. Carr was the president of the National Football League from 1921 until his death in 1939. Carr was born in Columbus, Ohio. As a mechanic for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Columbus, he directed the Columbus Panhandles football team in 1907 until 1922...

 ruled in favor of Lyons and the Jeffs. The Elias Sports Bureau
Elias Sports Bureau
The Elias Sports Bureau is an American company that provides historical research and statistical services in the field of professional sports.In 1913, Al Munro Elias and his brother Walter established the Al Munro Elias Bureau in New York City...

 has not recognized this game as a forfeit and official NFL standings also say it was not a forfeit.

Demise of the Jeffs

Rochester played, and lost, only one league game during the 1920 season
1920 NFL season
The 1920 APFA season was the inaugural regular season of the National Football League which was called the American Professional Football Association in 1920 and 1921...

. However in order for Lyons to have a competitive team that would draw crowds, he needed to spend money, but he couldn't spend the money until the crowds started coming. In six seasons, the Jeffersons won just two games against NFL opponents. Lyons finally folded the team after the 1925 season.


Aside from being a co-founder of the NFL, Lyons served as an Honorary Historian of the NFL, and was a huge contributor in opening the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the hall of fame of professional football in the United States with an emphasis on the National Football League . It opened in Canton, Ohio, on September 7, 1963, with 17 charter inductees...

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