The one (losing) game for Tonawanda’s 1921 NFL team

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

In 1921, the NFL wasn’t even known as the NFL yet. The American Professional Football Association would be renamed the “National Football League” a year later.

Tam Rose was the coach and star of the All-Tonawandas football team, known for one game in the NFL record books as Tonawanda Kardex.

The storyline for the league that season would become familiar to Western New York pro-football fans. The Buffalo All-Americans finished in second place to the Chicago Staleys, who would later become the Bears.

During the earliest years of professional football, several Buffalo teams took to the field – including the All-Americans, the Niagaras and the Bisons in the 1910s and 1920s.

During the same time, semi-pro and college football were very popular in Western New York as well, and teams at the pro, semi-pro and collegiate levels often played one another.

One popular semi-pro team was the All-Tonawandas, led by former Syracuse football star and Tonawanda High School athletics director Tam Rose. They were popular because they were good.

During the 1920 season, the semi-pro All-Tonawandas beat the professional Rochester Jeffersons twice, including dealing what The News reported as Rochester’s first home loss.

Tonawanda’s only NFL game is a footnote in history– but it wasn’t much more than a footnote when it happened, either. There was only a short story about the game in the Buffalo Courier.

In 1921, as Rose continued as the coach and star for the All-Tonawandas, he also put together a team that played a single game as a professional team against the Rochester Jeffs. The Rochester newspaper called the team the Tonawanda Lumberjacks, but the NFL record books list the team name as the Tonawanda Kardex – named after the American Kardex Co. in Tonawanda.

An NFL team from Tonawanda played in Rochester against the Jeffersons in 1921.

Whether they were the Kardex or the Lumberjacks, Tonawanda’s lone NFL game was a loss, played in Rochester’s baseball stadium against the Jeffersons, 45-0.

It was, as the score might indicate, an ugly affair.

“Jeffs reel off long gains through use of forward pass,” read a subheadline for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story.

It went on to read, “That intangible something known as class cropped out often in the playing of the Jeffs yesterday afternoon at Baseball Park and the Big Red football team, with its array of triple threat men, went over, around, and through the burly Tonawanda eleven for a mess of six touchdowns.”

Even though the game didn’t count in the official NFL standings, the Tonawanda team that was also known as the Tonawanda Kardex played Buffalo’s NFL team, in 1920.

It was the only professional game for the Tonawanda team and represents the shortest tenure of an NFL club in the league’s history. The Tonawanda Kardex are also in the record books for having the worst win percentage as a franchise at .000.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.