Leo Lyons was born on March 11,1892 in Rochester, New York. As a young child, he grew up in Fairport, New York, where his father ran a milk delivery service. He would spend his early years obsessing about football while hanging out with his friend Walter Hagen, who obsessed about golf. In 1908, at the age of 16, he joined the Jefferson sandlot football team. At 18, he was not only a player, but manager, coach and owner as well. He was described in newspapers as a walking football franchise. He was also the team's groundskeeper, game scheduler, ticket printer, counselor, doctor and photographer at the young age of 18. He would mold the sandlot Jeffersons team into a formidable state champion and eventually a charter member of the National Football League. Leo was present on September 17,1920 at the Hupmobile showroom in Canton , Ohio to be part of what the NFL recognizes as the founding of the League. From 1920 to 1925, Leo would pluck some of the best college football players in the country to play for him. Players like Joe Alexander, Elmer Oliphant, Benny Boynton and Walter French. However, that would lead to his team's demise. Local fans wanted local players and Rochester would not support a team filled with outsiders. The more Leo improved the team with all-stars, the less people turned out to watch. Turning to bootlegging during Prohibition and working a full time job was not enough to keep his team competitive against wealthier teams. He would plea to the people of Rochester to support and grow with the team like Green Bay did, that football would grow in popularity with time and with talented college players. They laughed at him and supported the other local sandlot teams stocked with local talent instead. Leo wanted his beloved hometown to have a pro football team, but unfortunately, he was in the minority. He made a last ditch effort in 1925, going to C.C.Pyle and Red Grange to see if he would play for Rochester, offering him $5,000 a game ( a lot of money back then) Red Grange was the biggest name in football. Obviously, he would sign with the Chicago Bears and George Halas . It would also be the end of the Rochester Jeffersons, nearly losing his house in the process.
In the 1930's , Leo would have Jim Thorpe speak in Rochester and visit city schools about not only the Olympics and football, but the plight of the American Indian in the United States and the incident of losing his Olympic medals. Leo would continue collecting football memorabilia for the next 35 years until he convinced NFL Commissioner Pete Rozele to build a Hall of Fame to show it all. In 1963, Leo was there at the ribbon cutting ceremony, on stage and on field for the coin toss in Canton. George Halas would mention Leo by name in his Hall Of Fame induction speech and Joe Guyon would have Leo present him with his HOF bust. NFL team owners would unanimously name Leo " Honarary Historian of the NFL" at a League meeting in Florida in 1965. He would remain lifelong friends with Jim Thorpe, George Halas, Art Rooney Sr. and pro golfer Walter Hagen. After football, Leo also started a very successful paint business,the Lyons Paint Co. in Rochester. But his heart and sole remained with his Rochester Jeffersons and the National Football League.
Leo on stage opening night at Hall of Fame 1963.