The Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Denver this Sunday to face off against the Denver Broncos in a game that has produced the largest point spread in the history of the NFL. The Broncos are currently favored by 28 points which, sadly, could be generous. The Jaguars are simply and realistically the laughingstock of the league right now. At 0-5, things are looking down. Straight down. The complete opposite is true of the Broncos. Led by the potent passing of QB Peyton Manning, they are 5-0 and are on pace to break pretty much every record. They are far and away the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year. In fact, they may even be the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. History is being made with every snap, and it has been fun to watch. This game against the Jaguars could provide an opportunity for the Broncos to win in a way that is usually reserved for Madden NFL on the “easy” setting.
Here at the QB Blog, we editors make weekly picks for each game being played in the NFL. There is no purpose for it beyond bragging rights and personal competition. We do not claim to be experts. In fact, what sets us apart from other blogs is just that; we know we aren’t experts and that is fine by us. Well, this week when I was going through the games to decide on winners and losers I came across this already infamous game. I am and will always be a fan of the underdog. I will always root for David over Goliath. I could watch Jimmy Chitwood make his final shot over and over again. Rudy never fails to make me cry. American culture has an affinity for the underdog, especially when that underdog somehow finds a way to win. After all, America itself is the greatest example of the victorious underdog in human history. That’s not hyperbole. That is straight veritas. However, with all that being said, I neither expect the Jaguars to win on Sunday nor do I care. Rooting for the underdog requires a blend of liking the underdog and perhaps disliking the favorite. To me, the Jaguars are not likable, and the Broncos have yet to ruin their success with hubris. I’m not rooting for a mammoth rout, though. I don’t want to see Denver run up the score, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them win.
The decision to pick the Broncos was made for me by reason. However, I wanted to write something clever and funny to go along with my pick. God knows there are plenty of punch lines to be delivered about this game. I originally wrote that the Jaguars should consider forfeiting. I deleted it because it’s not funny, and it was stupid of me to suggest it. They are grown men. They will be just fine. However, the idea of forfeiting stirred me. The question “when was the last time an NFL team forfeited a game?” popped in my head. Like the good Millennial that I am I immediately stopped thinking for myself and took straight to Google. The answer to the question interested me and hit close to home.
Professional football looked much different in its nascent days. The game was primarily a collegiate sport until the 1920’s with Ivy League games being the premiere events. There were examples of sandlot teams playing all over the country prior to that point, but the game had yet to manifest itself in an organizational way for professionals. The thought of getting paid to play football after college was too post-material for the day. That changed in 1920 with the formation of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) which would a few years later become the National Football League (NFL). You may have heard of it. Some of the original teams included the Akron Pros, the Buffalo All-Americans, the Dayton Triangles and the Muncie Flyers. Only the Chicago Cardinals (Arizona Cardinals) and the Decatur Staleys (Chicago Bears) remain in the present day NFL.
The teams are not the only things that have changed about the NFL over the past 93 years. The game itself is different in regards to rules, playing styles and equipment. It hasn’t lost its sense of raison d’etre though. It is still the gritty, at times violent competition that we all love. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but the gridiron is king. One major difference between the game then and now is the attention paid to stats and records. Fans today tend to be stat-driven. The dawn of Fantasy Football solidified that. Back in the early days, it was more about the final score and the victor. The concept of the box score was foreign. Bob Carroll of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) delved into this in a 1996 edition of the organization’s periodical The Coffin Corner. He writes that “… back in 1921 – a mere 75 years ago – there wasn’t any record book. In fact, the league, then called the American Professional Football Association, didn’t publish weekly standings. Apparently, “final standings” for 1921 weren’t published until thirty years later when they were reconstructed from scattered and incomplete team records and dimming memories.”
The league was short on fans, and the few they had didn’t seem to require scores, stats and standings in order to be fans. This is almost impossible to comprehend in today’s day and age. We have numerous sports TV networks, countless blogs (like this one!), and talk radio that are dedicated to those scores, stats and standings. Even the NFL has its own TV network, satellite radio station and film production entity. It is almost an impossibility to avoid the consumption of NFL news and rumors. On top of that, it is a certainty at this point that nothing that happens on or around the field of play will ever be lost to history. Everything is known. As Bob Carroll explained, the same cannot be said about the early days.
On December 4, 1921 the APFA’s Rochester Jeffersons were slated to play the Washington Senators at American League Park, the home of Washington’s professional baseball team of the same name. The teams were greeted at the field by a severe snowstorm. How severe will never be known, but it is fair to say that Rochester’s manager Leo Lyons would claim it was more severe than would Senators manager Tim Jordan. After 40 minutes of arguing about the field conditions, Lyons decided that the Jeffs, as the Jeffersons were known shortly, would not be taking the field due to safety concerns. The game was forfeited, and a Senators victory was granted without a single snap being played. The final score, at least in the team logs, was recorded as 1-0 in favor of Washington. It was the first, last and only forfeit in the history of the NFL.
Now, as with any dispute, there are two sides to this story. Unfortunately, like with the stats of the day, the true details of this event are lost to time. The information we do have is from a couple of newspaper stories and incomplete NFL records that cover the aftermath of the forfeit. Leo Lyons’ claim that the snowstorm presented conditions that were too unsafe to play in isn’t refuted anywhere other than by the fact that Tim Jordan and the Washington Senators were willing to play. Unless their determination to play was due to their need to be the manlier, braver team then it doesn’t look good for the Jeffs. If in fact they were just calling Lyons’ bluff, they succeeded. Furthermore, Bob Carroll, in the same Coffin Corner piece cited above, states that Jordan’s desire to avoid disappointing the some 400 fans that had showed up despite the storm kept him from agreeing with Lyons that the game should be postponed or cancelled. He didn’t want to lose out on the revenue.
Additionally, Lyons claimed that an additional reason that he opted to forfeit was due to an argument over reimbursement for the Jeffs. At the time, the NFL had a guarantee in their game contracts that the home team would pay the away team $800 (roughly $9,500 today) regardless of the outcome of the game. The monies were designated for player salaries and travel expenses. Well, the Senators didn’t want to pay the Jeffs the full $800 because the snowstorm effected the fan turnout. They felt that $200 would suffice considering they weren’t going to make as much money on ticket sales as usual due to the weather. This rightfully upset Lyons. He was already hesitant about playing because of the field conditions, and the illegal lowball offer for reimbursement made his decision to forfeit a sure one.
At the close of the 1921 season, the NFL, under the guidance of then commissioner Joseph Carr, ruled that Tim Jordan and the Washington Senators breached the game contract when they refused to pay Leo Lyons and his Rochester Jeffersons the contractually guaranteed $800. They mandated that Jordan pay them their due and warned Jordan that if he didn’t pay the Washington Senators would be kicked out of the NFL. Jordan, basing his decision on several factors including this ruling, chose not to pay and the Senators were no more. The Rochester Jeffs never received their money, but they lived to play for four more seasons before folding in 1925.
Ultimately, the decision to forfeit that day fell on the shoulders of Leo Lyons. He felt that the danger posed by that storm outweighed the necessity to play the game. He didn’t want his guys getting hurt when it was an avoidable situation. No one, especially at this point in time, can criticize the man. It’s impossible to know whether or not he was being too cautious or if it was truly the sensible decision given the conditions. However, his choice to forfeit that game in 1921 remains the sole example of such a thing ever occurring. I highly doubt that anyone, especially Lyons, had the foresight at that time to predict that would still be the case in 2013. It should be noted that neither the NFL nor the Elias Sports Bureau acknowledge the forfeit. There was never a reason given by either as to why it was never official. Perhaps neither institution was prepared to establish it as such considering that the event, like most games then, lacked thorough records. Maybe the NFL doesn’t want a single forfeit to ruin their otherwise perfect history of games played excluding those not played due to occasional lockouts. We may never know.
I would never suggest in a serious manner that Jacksonville or any team consider forfeiting. Las Vegas may claim they have little to no shot beating the Broncos, but crazier things have happened and Vegas has been wrong before. One of the more beautiful characteristics of the NFL is its parity. There are upsets every week. There are good teams this year that weren’t last year and vice versa. The Jaguars will most likely be good again someday. Success in the NFL is generally cyclical. Unfortunately, this game against the Broncos comes first. They will probably lose, but the final score will not read 1-0 in Denver’s favor. That unique score belongs to Fairport, NY native Leo Lyons and his once-upon-a-time Rochester Jeffersons.
The weather in Denver on Sunday is supposed to be sunny, clear and in the mid-60’s. There will be no snowstorm. Good luck Jacksonville. Give ‘em hell.