Malatino to be inducted into Hall of Fame

JOHNSTOWN – What Mike Malatino lacked in size on the football field, he made up for in tenacity.

The 5-foot-9, 145-pound defensive back put 23 seasons in the books for the Glove Cities Colonials, recording 75 interceptions and more than 600 career tackles in an all-star semi-pro football career that earned him an induction in the Colonials Hall of Fame in 1998.

His prowess was not only recognized by his teammates but earned the respect of his opponents as well.

That respect has earned him election as a member of the 16 players and coaches to be enshrined by the American Football Association as part of the Class of 2015 into the Semi-Pro/Minor League Football Hall of Fame during ceremonies Thursday and Friday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

“My wife knew about it for more than a year before I did,” Malatino said. “I came home one night after having a few drinks with the guys, and she told me I had a call from Dave Burch of the AFA. I didn’t have any idea what was going on. I was in shock, and I still haven’t fully grasped the entire idea.”

Malatino is the second member of the Colonials to be elected to the AFA Hall of Fame. He joins running back Joe Hall who was inducted as a member of the Class of 2014.

Malatino’s nomination was spearheaded by former teammates Bob Bean and Rick Sager.

“I was his backup in the old days,” Sager said. “When he was out there, he made it look so easy. He was able to read what was going to happen before it happened. He was a natural.”

During his tenure with the Colonials, the 66-year-old Johnstown High School graduate was selected to the Empire Football League all-star team five times, was awarded the Colonials defensive MVP and Most Dedicated Player award three times and was selected to the All-Minors Team in 1980.

He tried to retire once but his love of the game drew him back to the Colonials as a player/coach.

“I played for the team beginning in 1968 and then played through the 1970s and well into the 1980s,” he said. “When I heard that George Blanda played in four decades, I came back to play again in 1990 and 1991 and was a player/coach in 1992.”

During his playing years, the Colonials compiled a 131-95 record as members of the Empire Football League, the Eastern Football League and the North American Football League.

Looking back at his career Malatino recalled the rivalry the Colonials developed with the Watertown Red and Black.

“We played teams from all over the state. But the first year we played Watertown was special,” he said. “They were very good, and the first time they got off the bus, we all looked at them, and they looked like a pro team. We were small compared to them. But we ended up beating them 42-0. They didn’t expect that to happen, but they were very good sports after the game, and it turned into quite a rivalry.”

However, his game against the Rotterdam Eagles stands out as one of his best as a player.

“I knew the Rotterdam quarterback and we were joking around before the game,” Malatino said. “The first pass he threw, I caught it. He tried to throw it away three more times during the game, and I made the interception each time. Finally, he was trying to get rid of the ball one more time late in the game. He smiled at me, and I smiled back at him. I ended up making another interception. After the game, we just joked about it.”

The camaraderie of the players, both from the Colonials and other teams, is something that Malatino said is something he misses.

“We had a lot of guys who didn’t like to lose, but it was a great time to play football back then,” he said. “After the games, we all went out and had something to eat and a few drinks. Even the opposing team came along. I remember the first time we beat the Brooklyn team, and we asked them to follow us after the game. They were surprised, but they came along anyway. A couple of times after that, when they came here to play, they had players who brought guitars with them and we would have a blast after the game.”

Malatino said he hopes he is only a part of a long line of former local players to be honored by the Hall of Fame.

“[Playing semi-pro football for the Colonials] was fun. It was a great social outlet,” he said. “I enjoyed playing defense, and I enjoyed hitting people, even though I wasn’t a very big guy. It was a different era back then. We would get 4,500 people to watch us here at Knox Field, and we even had fan buses. When we went on the road, we had just as many fans as the home team did. The whole community was involved back then.”

The induction ceremony will be webcast over americanfootballassn.com.