Leo Lyons (American football)

Leo Lyons

refer to caption

Leo Lyons playing for the Rochester Jeffersons
Position: Owner, Head Coach
Personal information
Date of birth: (1892-03-11)March 11, 1892
Place of birth: Fairport, New York
Date of death: May 18, 1976(1976-05-18) (aged 84)
Place of death: Rochester, New York
Career history
As player:
As coach:
  • Rochester Jeffersons (1910–1923)
  • Rochester Jeffersons (1910–1918)
  • Rochester Jeffersons (1923)
As executive:
  • Rochester Jeffersons (Owner) (1910–1925)
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
NFL Win-Loss Record: 0-7-0
Winning %: .000
Games: 7
Coaching stats at PFR

Leo V. Lyons (March 11, 1892 May 18, 1976) was a co-founder of the National Football League. He was a player, manager,coach and owner of the Rochester Jeffersons 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 city championship. As a manager, Leo recruited one of pro football's first African-American players, Henry McDonald.

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 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, early in the 1917 season to play the Canton Bulldogs, led by Jim Thorpe. 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. 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 ruled in favor of Lyons and the Jeffs. The Elias Sports Bureau 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. 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.


Rochester Jeffersons

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