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The Rochester Jeffersons Take to the National Stage (Part 2)

A look at the 1921 season

Rochester Jeffersons manager Leo Lyons had high hopes for the 1921 season, but he still faced an uphill battle. His team failed to beat a league opponent and had trouble competing against local aggregations. Granted, they could beat some of the lesser teams, but Leo wanted to compete on a national level. He also had another problem. With his increased use of non-Rochestonians, he was not able to attract the attention of the local fans, as they were more interested in local players. Without the support of the local fans, he could not get the necessary gate receipts to keep his team afloat. Other Rochester teams took over the spotlight. Leo Powers’ Regals (19th Ward team) started playing in 1920 and continued in 1921. Romney Farrell pushed his Oxford team hard, practicing five nights a week. This paid off, as he was able to generate a star team in the 1922 season. The Russers (Dutchtown) would also catch the eye of local fans. Max Russer was a local wrestler who became interested in football and regularly watched the team practice at School No. 21. He decided to back the team and continued to do so for years. These teams captured the hearts of the local fans, not the “outsiders” that played for the Jeffersons. Not to be deterred, Lyons took his team on the road, playing only four of his nine games at home. Since the stronger league teams did not want to play in Rochester (due to the diminishing gate revenue as fans were attracted to home-grown talent), the Jeffersons did not have a choice. That problem plagued Lyons throughout the remainder of the Jeffersons’ existence and hastened their downfall.

The Jeffersons’ first game was against All-Buffalo. Rochester received the opening kickoff, and Jim Laird and Jerry Noonan quickly moved the offense for first downs, with Laird on the receiving end of a high pass, turning it into a twenty-yard gain. Buffalo subsequently was held on downs and McGraw punted. Laird and Noonan continued the Rochester drive and Argus ran for three yards, bringing the Jefferson offense to the Buffalo one-yard line. Buffalo held and McGraw quickly punted to Laird. Noonan ran for ten yards, who then tossed a long pass to Lowery for the first score of the game.

In the second quarter, Buffalo was able to complete a beautiful pass (Gene Dooley to Henry McDonald), but was unable to capitalize on the gain. They punted to the Jeffersons, who started their drive with gains by Bob Argus, Jim Laird and Ziggy Hasbrouck. Noonan followed with a twenty-five yard run, but on the next play Hasbrouck fumbled and Buffalo recovered the ball. Buffalo immediately punted, putting the Jeffersons at midfield. Two Noonan runs later, Rochester scored their second touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.

In the second half, the Jefferson offense continued to roll. Noonan ran for a thirty-yard gain, followed by a Laird ten-yard run and an Argus one-yard run. This put Rochester at the Buffalo four-yard line. Rochester fumbled on the next play, but Argus fell on the ball. Argus then ran for no gain, but Noonan was able to break free for a score on the next play. The next Rochester drive started when Laird returned a Buffalo kick ten yards. He then broke through the line for a twenty-five yard gain. Noonan tossed a ten-yard pass to Witter and Laird ran the final yards for a score. Rochester was up 27-0.

Buffalo started showing some signs of life in the final quarter. Sherman was able to break through the line for a few nice gains and Dooley tossed a pass to McPherson for a twelve-yard advance. This brought Buffalo to the Jefferson twenty-three yard line. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Noonan intercepted the next pass and ran it seventy-five yards for a score. In the last minute of play, Noonan tossed a pass to Laird, who ran it thirty yards for the final touchdown. The Rochester lines had difficulty all day in their first game of the season, but were still able to help move the offense to a 41-0 victory over All-Buffalo. Buffalo sustained numerous injuries and were hampered by repeated offsides penalties. For Rochester, however, it was a good start to the season.

In the first of three consecutive road games, the Jeffersons took on the mighty Chicago Staleys. The first half was evenly played, with the Jeffs scoring first on a Howard Berry twenty-three yard field goal. The Staley’s tied it up when Dutch Sternaman kicked a thirty-yard field goal. The second half was definitely more interesting, with Chicago driving down to Rochester’s ten-yard line. The Staley’s tried twice to advance, but were stopped both times. On the third attempt, Berry intercepted the Chicago pass and ran it back eighty-five yards for the score. The Staley’s would not be deterred and they put together another offensive drive, taking it deep into Rochester territory. Again, a turnover would prove costly as Chicago fumbled the ball away to the visitors. Rochester immediately tried to punt, but it was blocked. Fortunately for the Jeffs, Berry was able to recover. He tried again to punt, but George Trafton blocked it and Ralph Scott fell on it in the endzone. In the fourth quarter, Berry kicked another field goal for the visitors, but Ken Huffine was able to put the Staleys on top for good by running in a score for a touchdown. Even though the Jeffs pulled out in front in the third quarter, the Staleys were able to come from behind and grab the 16-13 win over the visitors. Rochester was 1-1 for the season, but their only league game was a loss.

Next up would be fellow American Professional Football Association (APFA) member and western New York rival Buffalo All-Americans. The All-Americans easily handled the Jeffs, as they scored in each of the first three quarters, while the Jeffs could not muster up a single point. Buffalo spent most of the game in Rochester territory. Their first two drives took them deep into the Jefferson zone, but on the third drive, they were able to finally cross the goal line. Ockie Anderson got the ball on the Rochester fifteen-yard line, started to one side, but reversed his direction and ran around the opposite end and into the endzone. Heinie Miller scored the second touchdown on a pass from Anderson. In the second half, Buffalo continued their offensive dominance when Johnny Scott took the ball over to make the score 21-0. Later in the third quarter, Bob Nash blocked a Rochester punt and Bill Ward picked up the ball and ran it in for the final touchdown.

Rochester finished their three-game road trip with a meeting against the 1920 APFA champion Akron Pros. The Pros were still a dominant team, competing with Chicago and Buffalo – Rochester’s two previous opponents – for the 1921 title. The Jeffs missed the presence of Howard Berry as Akron had little difficulty in defeating the visitors 19-0, even though they looked out of sorts in the first half. As a result, Akron coach Elgie Tobin benched Paul Sheeks and Tobin took over as quarterback. The team started to come together and Rip King was able to toss a couple of long passes to Scotty Bierce to finish a drive with a touchdown. Their running game also seemed to improve, as Carl Cramer was able to take the ball over twice in the final period.

The Jeffs had now taken on three APFA members and only were able to compete with Chicago. This would not bode well for Rochester’s hopes of becoming a national power, but fortunately for Rochester, Tonawanda was next on the schedule. In 1920, the All-Tonawanda Lumberjacks defeated the Jeffs twice, but it would be a different story when the Tonawanda Kardex (the Tonawanda Kardex was called All-Tonawanda in 1920. In fact, the team was still called All-Tonawanda in the press. It was not until later research showed that the Kardex Company were sponsors that the team was given the new name.) would visit the Jeffs now that Tonawanda was a member of the APFA. The Jeffs trounced the Kardex 45-0 in what would be Tonawanda’s only APFA game in their franchise history (The Tonawanda Kardex also played All-Syracuse on October 9, 1921. The game ended in a scoreless tie. Since All-Syracuse was not a member of the APFA, this game does not count in APFA standings, nor does it get mentioned in historical accounts of the Tonawanda Kardex. There was a third game scheduled for their season (Rochester Scalpers on October 30), but it was cancelled.). Benny Boynton was the star of the game, as he threw two touchdown passes (one to Jerry Noonan and the other to Howard Berry), ran the ball for a touchdown, kicked a field goal and converted six extra points. Jim Laird was second in team scoring with two touchdowns.

Elsewhere in the league, things were getting tense between the Buffalo All-Americans and the Philadelphia Quakers (previously the Union Athletic Association). In 1920, Buffalo manager Frank McNeil failed to pay promised bonuses to his players, creating tension on the team. Before the 1921 season, Buffalo released back Johnny Scott. After Scott signed on with the Tonawanda Kardex, McNeil brought him back to the All-Americans. This did not play well with the already disgruntled players and just added to their frustrations. Buffalo was to take on Canton on November 20th. McNeil found out that the Quakers had a game scheduled with Canton for the previous day. Since his players were also playing for Philadelphia, McNeil felt that they would be too tired or injured to give Buffalo its best chance at beating Canton and informed the league of the situation. Once Joe Carr found out about the conflict, he cancelled the Philadelphia-Canton game. This infuriated Leo Conway, manager of the Quakers. The gate receipts for that game would have been huge and McNeil ruined it. In the fallout of all of this, Lou Little, Heinie Miller, Johnny Scott, Joe Spagna and Lud Wray left the All-Americans and stayed with the Quakers. Needing to fill roster spots, Buffalo raided the roster of the recently defunct Detroit Tigers; grabbing guard Moose Gardner, center Charlie Guy, tackle Steamer Horning, back Walt Kuehl and tackle/end Tillie Voss. With little practice time, the All-Americans were only able to squeek out a 7-7 tie with Canton.

Philadelphia was able to quickly schedule another game against an APFA opponent to make up for the Canton game that was cancelled: the Rochester Jeffersons. The Jeffersons and Quakers fought to a 3-3 tie, with both scores coming in the final period of play. Johnny Scott kicked the six-yard goal after rushes by Robb and Smith failed to gain much from the Rochester ten-yard line. Rochester answered with a goal of their own, as the Jeffersons were able to drive to the Philadelphia forty-yard line, where Rochester lined up for a kick. Jim Laird held the ball as Morrissey put it through the goal posts to even up the game. The tie gave Rochester a 2-3-1 record for the season (1-3-1 against league opponents).

The Jeffs were now able to go back home to take on the visiting Columbus Panhandles. Scoring twenty points in the final quarter was all the Jeffs needed to raise their win total versus APFA opponents to a staggering two for the season. Columbus scored twice in the first quarter, both coming off the foot of Emmett Ruh. In the second quarter, the Jeffs countered when they capped off a drive with a ten-yard run by Jim Laird. In the fourth quarter, Benny Boynton tossed a pass to Ben Clime, who took the ball to the opponent’s fifteen-yard line, where Laird took the ball over three plays later. The Jeffs again drove deep into Columbus territory when Jerry Noonan caught a Benny Boynton pass on the visitor’s twenty-yard line. Noonan took the ball to the twelve-yard line before Boynton faked a pass and ran it in for another score. Columbus responded when Frank Nesser tossed a pass to Joe Mulbarger for a score. Rochester sealed the victory with a Boynton to Noonan pass from the Columbus twelve-yard line. The 27-13 victory evened their overall record at 3-3-1.

On a wet and muddy field, the Jeffersons held what would be the final game of their season by taking on the Syracuse Saltines. Syracuse put up a fight and was twice able to stop the Jefferson attack while in scoring position. Syracuse and Rochester fought a tough battle in the first period, as neither team was able to advance the ball due to the rainy conditions. By the second period, Benny Boynton was able to get some footing as he ran around end for a twenty-yard gain. He followed this with a ten-yard pass to Doc Alexander. The Syracuse defense stiffened and Rochester failed to gain. Benny Boynton attempted a drop kick from the twenty-yard line, but failed. Delaney punted across midfield and Jerry Noonan returned it from the Jefferson forty-yard line for the score.

Rochester put together another drive in the third period, but was unable to score. Boynton tossed a pass to “Spin” Roy, who took the ball to the Syracuse thirty-yard line. Boynton then tossed a pass to Noonan, who was brought down at the twelve-yard line. Noonan ran down to the five-yard line and Boynton took it to the two-yard line before Rochester lost the ball on downs. In the final quarter, Noonan intercepted a Syracuse pass. Noonan then caught a pass and brought the ball to the Syracuse thirty-yard line. Boynton ran for ten yards, followed by tossing a pass to Alexander for ten more. Noonan ran for five yards and Boynton ran the final five yards for the score. Syracuse tried to fight back, as Lehr ran for twenty-five yards on the final drive for the Saltines, but it was not enough as time ran out. Rochester took the 12-0 win to put their record at 2-3-1 against APFA opponents and 4-3-1 overall.

In what turned out to be the first forfeit in league history, the Washington Pros/Senators “won” their game against the Jeffersons 1-0. Referee C.A. Metsler awarded the forfeit to Washington when according to the Washington Post, Rochester manager Leo Lyons refused to take the field due to weather. According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the Jeffersons players were willing to play the game as long as Washington paid Rochester $800 in traveling expenses. According to the contract of the game, “if both teams have arrived on the field of play, and it is found that said field is too wet for play, the question of cancellation shall rest solely with the manager of the home team.” Approximately 300 to 400 people showed up to view the contest and Washington manager Tim Jordan wanted to play the game. Rochester did not. During a heated argument that lasted a little over half-an-hour, Jordan wanted the Jeffersons to play for a percentage of the gate receipts (which would come to about $200) and not the full $800 requested by the Jeffersons. Rochester refused and threatened to take legal action against the Washington franchise, due to the failure of the home team to pay the visitor’s traveling expenses ($800). This matter was held over until the January meeting of the league.

The league changed its name from the American Professional Football Association to the National Football League at the January 28, 1922 meeting in Canton. This was just one item on the agenda. However, the number one item on Leo Lyon’s mind was the reimbursement of the $800 he felt the Washington Senators owed him over the “forfeit” at the end of the year. Lyons pleaded his case that even thought the weather forced his decision to keep his team off the field, that Washington still owed him the guaranteed $800 for his team to make the trip. The league agreed and Washington was forced to pay the money for forfeit their franchise in the league. The problem arose in the fact that Washington did not attend this meeting, nor did they have any desire to continue playing in the league. Therefore, the threat was all but useless. Leo would continue to press for the money, but to no avail. With Washington refusing to continue with the league, the league really had no standing to force them to pay the money to Lyons.

The Jeffersons played three more seasons in the NFL, but failed to leave much of a lasting impact. Their inability to draw fans at home and the poor product on the field made it difficult for Leo Lyons to keep his team financially in shape. On July 10, 1926, the Jeffersons suspended operations (with league permission) for one year.

The National Football League was going through some difficulty by 1927. The feud with the rival American Football League had a financial impact on NFL franchises. As they tirelessly worked to prevent the AFL from getting any foothold and quickly expanded to compete in every AFL city, they subsequently weakened their own league. Something needed to be done. The weaker franchises were dragging down the stronger clubs, preventing them from making a profit.

February 5, 1927 was the date of the first league meeting to discuss what to do to strengthen the NFL. The AFL was pretty much history, so the focus of the owners shifted internally to the league. Clubs like Rochester, Akron and Canton were not strong enough to draw the crowds necessary for the bigger clubs to succeed. The league meeting would start with Dr. Harry March requesting that a committee be formed to design a reorganization plan. NFL Commissioner Joe Carr appointed representatives of the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Frankford Yellowjackets, Kansas City Cowboys, Akron Indians, Columbus Tigers, Providence Steamroller, Pottsville Maroons and Green Bay Packers to this committee, with Charles Coppen of the Providence Steamroller being named chairman. Chairman Coppen reported back that the league should be divided up into two distinct sections: an “A” section and a “B” section. The “A” teams were the strongest teams in the league, while the “B” members were the weakest. This plan immediately drew the ire of the teams labeled under “B” and the meeting was adjourned to discuss other alternatives.

When the meetings the following day got back around to reorganization, chairman Coppen was still unable to put forth a plan that was agreeable by the membership. The “A” and “B” concept would eventually be accepted, but the method of determining who belonged into what classification was still to be completed. Coppen was again appointed to find a solution to this problem and he enlisted the help of Shep Royle of the Frankford Yellowjackets, Johnny Bryan of the Milwaukee Badgers, Jim Conzelman of the Detroit Panthers and Jerry Corcoran of the Columbus Tigers. The committee came back with the following designations:
A: Providence Steamroller, Frankford Yellowjackets, Milwaukee Badgers, Detroit Panthers, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Cleveland Bulldogs, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bisons and the Brooklyn Lions with the Duluth Eskimos, Kansas City Cowboys and Pottsville Maroons relegated to traveling teams.

B: Akron Indians, Canton Bulldogs, Columbus Tigers, Dayton Triangles, Hammond Pros, Hartford Blues, Louisville Colonels, Minneapolis, Racine Tornadoes and Rochester Jeffersons.

The next item up for discussion was how to dismantle the “B” franchises. Each team was resigned to their fate, but proper compensation needed to be established. Corcoran insisted that the “B” teams sell their franchises back to the league at the current rate of $2500 each. The “A” teams immediately rejected that suggestion. It was now up to Carr to come up with a compromise and the league gave him until April 15 to make that decision.

Carr did not make his plan known until the April 23rd meeting at the Hotel Statler in Cleveland. Most of the “B” franchises did not show. The only representatives for those franchises were men who also held league positions; namely Jack Dunn (Minneapolis) who was NFL vice-president, Carl Storck (Dayton) who was secretary-treasurer, Aaron Hertzman (Louisville) and Jerry Corcoran (Columbus). They devised a six-point plan:
1) Any franchise that wished to suspend operations for the year may do so without having to pay the requisite dues. Any franchise that wished to sell their franchise back to the league may do so and will receive a pro-rated share of the monies in the league treasury at the time. This would be approximately a couple of hundred dollars.

2) If a club decided to suspend operations for the year, the teams could sell player contracts up to September 15, 1927. If the franchise decided to withdraw from the league, but still wanted to operate independently, the league will respect the rights of the players on that franchise.

3) If several franchises decide to operate independently and form their own league, the NFL would respect the rights of the players and the NFL would offer assistance in the operation and organization of the new league, including playing exhibition games with league members. Since Carr wanted a minor league with a close working relationship with the NFL, this was a pretty good option for him. He would have eliminated the weaker teams from his league, while still having a minor league from which to groom players for the NFL.

4) Any franchise that wished to suspend operations could sell their franchise for the current application fee. The downside was that the new owners needed to be approved by the league. Since the league did not want to expand, this was pretty much a moot point.

5) Any franchise that decided to resign from the league could not associate or participate in any other league without permission from the National Football League. This was to guarantee that the AFL would not come back.

6) Franchises had one year to make a decision before the league took more drastic action.

On July 16th and 17th, the league held another set of meetings to discuss scheduling. Obviously, the first item on the agenda was to determine who would remain in the league and who would resign. Brooklyn sold their franchise to Tim Mara, owner of the New York Giants. Milwaukee operated as an independent franchise. Detroit and Kansas City unloaded their rosters and Minneapolis suspended operations for a year. The Rochester Jeffersons suspended operations on July 16, 1927, but failed to re-activate or sell the team by the July 7, 1928 deadline indicated in the plan. Therefore, the franchise was cancelled. This put the final nail in the coffin of the Jeffersons.

09/10 New York Jets 1:00 pm
09/17 @ Carolina Panthers 1:00 pm
09/24 Denver Broncos 1:00 pm
10/01 @ Atlanta Falcons 1:00 pm
10/08 @ Cincinnati Bengals 1:00 pm
10/22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1:00 pm
10/29 Oakland Raiders 1:00 pm
11/2 @ New York Jets 8:25 pm
11/12 New Orlean Saints 1:00 pm
11/19 @ San Diego Chargers 4:05 pm
11/26 @ Kansas City Chiefs 1:00 pm
12/3 New England Patriots 1:00 pm
12/10 Indianapolis Colts 1:00 pm
12/17 Miami Dolphins 1:00 pm
12/24 @ New England Patriots 1:00 pm
12/31 @ Miami Dolphins 1:00 pm

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