One of the original NFL teams: The Rochester Jeffersons

April 23, 2019 04:43 AM

(WHEC) -- Starting on Thursday, millions of people across the country will watch players walk across a stage as they are drafted to be a part of the NFL.  

Entering its 100th year as an organization, the National Football League is the largest sports entity in the world; and one of its original teams was right here in Rochester.


The year was 1920. 

A decade that was ready to roar, women gained the right to vote, the first radio station hit the airwaves and football teams mostly from Ohio joined with one from Rochester, New York, to form what would become the National Football League.

The Rochester Jeffersons had a proud history prior to the NFL. As a semi-pro team they were regarded as the best in New York state and team owner Leo Lyons had dreams of turning his sandlot team into something huge.

"He was doing everything. He was the doctor, photographer, set up the football fields, he was a walking franchise," says John Steffenhagen.

Leo Lyons kept a lot of Jeffersons memorabilia, today his great-grandson John Steffenhagen has items like a game-worn leather helmet, a team photo and the original NFL franchise certificate. But John says the people of Rochester weren't keen on professional football in the Flour City.

"There were a lot of people who thought they were the outlaws, the anti-high school, rough and tumble."

Financial problems and a lack of success on the football field forced the Jeffersons to disband as a team in 1925, but the NFL never forgot the efforts of Leo Lyons.

"He collected memorabilia because he felt strongly that it'd be a pro league."

Nearly 40 years later, Lyons was invited to the opening of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"In 1963, when they were building the Hall of Fame, they came to Leo and he helped supply them with pictures and memorabilia, he was there at the cake cutting ceremony."

What started as a sandlot team in places like Edgerton and Bay street parks helped form the league that would captivate the nation.

As part of the NFL's centennial celebration, one of the Saturday draft picks will be made live here in Rochester to coincide with the 3rd day of the NFL Draft.

Watch below for our WEB EXTRAS on The Rochester Jeffersons


Rich Donnelly

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