Matthews: The Saga Of The Late But Not Great Rochester Jefferson


The NFL’s 100th anniversary 2019 season will include a salute to the 13 “original teams” from the league’s inaugural season in 1920. Thanks to Leo Lyons, Rochester was among them.

Lyons represented the Rochester Jeffersons at the meeting September 17, 1920, in Canton, Ohio – alongside Jim Thorpe and George Halas, among others -- that resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football Association. It became the National Football League in 1922.

In a mini-salute to Rochester as an NFL pioneer, Mayor Lovely Warren was chosen by the Buffalo Bills to help announce the team’s sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL college draft on April 27.

Here’s how the Jeffersons fared in their six-year NFL history:


The Jeffersons, named because the team played in the Jefferson Avenue area in its formative years, had a 6-3-2 record but only one game was against a fellow APFA team– the Buffalo All-Americans. In 1920 only, the APFA counted non-leagues games in the standings. The Jeffs scheduled some very weak opponents, including semi-pro teams.

Jeffs 10, All Buffalo 0

Jeffs 66, Fort Porter 0

Jeffs 0, Utica K. of C. 0

Jeffs 21, Syracuse Stars 7

Buffalo All-Americans 17, Jeffs 6

Jeffs 27, Utica K. of C. 7

All-Tonawanda 6, Jeffs 0

Jeffs 16, Rochester Scalpers 0

All-Tonawanda 14, Jeffs 3

Jeffs 7, Rochester Scalpers 6

Jeffs 0, Rochester Scalpers 0. The Scalpers were one of Rochester’s best sandlot/semi-pro teams. The Jeffs drew bigger crowds against the Scalpers than they did against pro competition. The fans and media favored watching and covering the local players over the imported pros on the Jeffs – even though the Jeffs were the best team in town.


The Jeffs posted a 2-3 record. They started 0-3 on the road before home games against two of the league’s weakest teams. They were to be Rochester’s last victories in the NFL. The next four years were not fruitful ones for the Jeffs.

Chicago Staleys 16, Jeffs 13. George Halas moved his APFA franchise from Decatur, Ill., to Chicago for the 1921 season. The team retained the name Staleys for this one season but Halas changed it to the Bears in 1922. He chose Bears because the city’s National League baseball team was the Cubs.

Buffalo All-Americans 28, Jeffs 0

Akron Pros 19, Jeffs 0

Jeffs 45, Tonawanda Karbex 0

Jeffs 27, Columbus Panhandles 13


The APFA became the NFL. Rochester was 0-4-1 and outscored 76-13. The first four games were on the road...Lyons, who had many duties with the Jeffs, including owner, player, agent, scout, photographer, publicist, part-time trainer and grounds crew member, continued to be frustrated because semi-pro teams still were attracting larger crowds than his team.

Akron Pros 13, Jeffs 13

Chicago Bears 7, Jeffs 0

Rock Island Independents 26, Jeffs 0

Racine Legion 9, Jeffs 0

Buffalo All-Americans 21, Jeffs 0 at Edgerton Park.


The Jeffs were 0-4 and outscored 141-6. They might have been the worst team in NFL history. Lyons added head coach to his many duties. The first two games were on the road and the final two games were at home.

Chicago Cardinals 60, Jeffs 0

Rock Island Independents 56, Jeffs 0. It was the first time an NFL team allowed 50 in back-to-back games. That didn’t happen again until the 2014 Chicago Bears did it.

Toledo Maroons 12, Jeffs 6

Buffalo All-Americans 13, Jeffs 0.


The futility continued for the Jeffs. They were 0-7 and outscored 156-7. They managed to score one touchdown all season and were shut out six times. Lyons was 0-3 as coach when he replaced himself with John Murphy, who went 0-4.

Frankford Yellow Jackets 21, Jeffs 0

Akron Pros 3, Jeffs 0

Columbus Tigers 15, Jeffs 7 (highlight of the season)

Buffalo Bisons 26, Jeffs 0

Cleveland Bulldogs 59, Jeffs 0

Columbus Tigers 16, Jeffs 0

Buffalo Bisons 16, Jeffs 0.


The Jeffs were 0-6-1 and outscored 111-26 under coach Tex Grigg. The entire schedule was on the road. Lyons had given up trying to draw decent crowds to Edgerton Park. The fans and media continued to support the sandlot semi-pros more than the NLL Jeffs.

Canton Bulldogs 14, Jeffs 7

Buffalo Bisons 0, Jeffs 0

Green Bay Packers 33, Jeffs 13

Providence Steam Rollers 17, Jeffs 0

New York Giants 13, Jeffs 0

Pottsville Maroons 14, Jeffs 6

Detroit Panthers 20, Jeffs 0. Rochester’s final NFL game was played November 2, 1925.

The Jeffs ended their history in Rochester on a 23-game winless streak. That was an NFL futility record until the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened with 26 straight losses in 1976-77.

Lyons finally ran out of money trying to keep the Jeffs afloat and reluctantly suspended operations after the 1925 season. The franchise was dormant for two years and terminated at the 1928 NFL owners’ meetings.

Lyons always told people that Rochester could’ve been “another Green Bay” if he had more fan support. He continued to attend NFL meetings long after the Jeffersons were folded. Halas and other appreciative league owners named him the NFL’s “honorary historian.” He died May 16, 1976 in Rochester at age 84.


Goalie Robin Lehner has a nightmarish 2017-18 season for the Buffalo Sabres. He admittedly battled demons – including bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity, and alcohol and drug addiction. The Sabres gave up on Lehner and the New York Islanders decided to give him a chance.

The Professional Hockey Writers Association this week nominated him for the Masterton Trophy, awarded to the player who displays “perseverance and dedication to the sport.” He has cleaned up his act and saved his career:

2018-2019 season with Islanders: 22-12 in the NHL in GAA and saves %; 5 shutouts in 42 games.

2017-18 season with the Sabres: 14-26-9 record; 3.01 GAA; ,908 save &; 3 shutouts in 53 games.


Sports llustrated’s always interesting baseball preview issue picks the Houston Astros to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2019 World Series. And I finally found some support for my pick of the Minnesota Twins to win the American League Central . SI says Twins 90-72 to Cleveland’s 89-73.

xxxSome Amerks fans were upset because the Buffalo Sabres called up top scorer left wing Victor Olaffson this week. Relax. It was his first promotion, he earned it and he’ll be back for the Calder Cup playoffs. He’s tied for fifth in AHL scoring (60 points on 27 goals and 33 assists in 64 games) and I think he’ll be at least a Second-Team AHL All-Star.

xxxIAnother season to try to forget for the Buffalo Sabres. They did at least one thing fairly well – They’re 5-3 in shootouts (and 7-8 in overtime games).

xxxThe International Olympic Committee has recommended that breakdancing, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing bed added for the Summer Olympics. The IOC wants connect more with young people. I’m not giving up on bowling as an Olympic sport. I assume it would be in the Summer Olympics because it doesn’t involve snow or ice.


Friday, March 29

Matt Olson 25...Ondrej Palat 28...Ryan Kalil 34...Justin Tuck 36..Erik Rasmussen 42...Jennifer Capriati 43....Keith Tkachuk 47...Kim Batten 50...Brian Jordan 52...Billy Beane 57...Kurt Thomas 63...Earl Campbell 64...Walt Frazier 74...Denny McLain 75.

Saturday, March 30

Zay Jones 24...Alex Bregman 25...Jake Maisnick 28...Chris Sale 30...Richard Sherman 31...Chris Canty 43...Dave Ellett 55...Lomas Brown 56...Brad McCrimmon 60...LaRue Martin 69...Jerry Lucas 79...Duane Rupp 81. Celine Dino 51 and Tracy Chapman 55 are invited to the birthday party.

Sunday, March 31

Peter Bourjos 32...Nathan Paetsch 36...Tyrone Carter 43..Pavel Bure 48....J R Reid 51...NBA Steve Smith 50...Tom Barrasso 54...John Taylor 57...Doug Wickenheiser 58...Mark Tuinei 59...Dennis DuVal 67. Al Gore 71 and Christopher Walken are invited to the birthday party.


March 29

79 years ago (1940), Joe Louis KOd Johnny Paycheck in 2 to retain the heavyweight boxing title...78 years ago (1941), Wisconsin beat Washington State for the third NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship...72 years ago (1947), 100-to-1 longshot Caughoo won the 101st Gran National steeplechase race by 20 lengths...35 years ago (1984), the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis...30 years ago (1989), Soviet players were permitted to play in the NHL...25 years ago (1994), coach Jimmy Johnson quit the Dallas Cowboys.

March 30

76 years ago (1943), Wyoming beat Georgetown 46-34 for the fifth NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship...29 years ago (1990), Jack Nicklaus made his debut on the PGA Seniors’ Tour...21 years ago (1998), Kentucky beat Utah for the 60th NCAA Men’s Basketball championship.

March 31

46 years ago (1973), the Philadelphia Flyers scored8 8 goals on an incredible 60 shots in the second period of a 10-2 win over the New York Islanders...44 years ago (1975), UCLA beat Kentucky 92-55 for its 10th and final NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship under coach John Wooden...32 years ago (1987), Indiana beat Syracuse 74-73 for the 49th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship...23 years ago (1996), Patty Sheehan won her sixth LPGA major title, the Nabisco Dinah Shore.

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