Robinson, Sager inducted into national Hall of Fame
For seven years, Harry Robinson was the leader on the defensive side of the ball for the Glove Cities Colonials championship teams in the 1970s.
With an impressive stat sheet that shows in 1974 alone he made 30 solo tackles, assisted on 88 more, pulled down three interceptions, running one back for a touchdown and recovered a fumble. As a placekicker, he converted on 23 straight point-after attempts and made 24 out of 26.
His accomplishments as a Colonial earned him a spot in the team’s Hall of Fame in 1990.
On June 22, the American Football Association’s National Hall of Fame agreed with the Upstate New York Semi Pro Football Alumni Group and inducted Robinson, along with former Colonial and Amsterdam Zephyrs player and executive Rick Sager into its wing of the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“What made the experience that special was that you are there where the professionals are inducted and that whole atmosphere gives you a sense of ‘Wow! I am here and I am going to be inducted into this place,'” Robinson said. “It may be the minor leagues, but still, you are around all these heroes that people in America cherish and enjoy. It was just overwhelming.”
For Sager, who is a member of the alumni group, the nomination and election was a surprise.
“They were kind of sneaky and didn’t tell me about this,” Sager said about his induction in the executive category. “I got a phone call giving me a heads up that they submitted my name. I said I appreciate it, but I didn’t think my resume was that strong. I would never have made it as a player. I definitely was not at the level of a Mike Malatino. Mike was great and I was just the average Joe out there. I think if you are in the Hall of Fame in any category it says a lot about for your dedication and sacrifices you have made”
Sager played defensive back and safety for the Colonials from 1977 to 1981 before stepping away as a player. He joined the Colonials board of directors and was the team statistician for a couple of years before heading back to the sidelines as an assistant coach in 1998 and 1999 before taking over the head coaching position in 2000.
In 2004 he and Tony Marrotta brought back the Amsterdam Zephyrs and he served as the Executive Vice President of the team until 2011. Sager remained involved with semi-pro football as a special projects coordinator for the Empire Football League and now serves as the Deputy Commissioner and statistician for the league.
“In his category, he was one of the best owners I have ever worked with. It is as simple as that,” said AFA Hall of Fame member Mike Manney, who nominated Sager. “He would go the extra mile for the team and the staff. If you ever needed anything he was easy to approach. I have been under some executives who were real dictators. Rick, I played against him; played with him and coached for him so we had several hats along the way. I was not surprised because his resume was too strong for him not to be voted in.”
Dom Ruggerio coached the Zephyrs for a stint, leading the team to playoff three EFL playoff appearances.
“I coached for Rick when he and Tony brought the Zephyrs back,” he said. “He was very instrumental, along with Tony, for getting the whole community behind that team that had not been around in 30 years. We had a lot of talent and Rick was instrumental in getting them here. We had a good run, making playoffs three or four years in a row. But as the guys got older, it just kind of petered out. I was proud to coach for Rick. You couldn’t ask for a better executive. He optimizes what a true executive at that level does and accomplishes. In my opinion I don’t think you can find anybody better in the area.”
Mike Philo was one of the players on the Colonials and Zephyrs.
“”I played for coach Sager with both the Colonials and the Zephyr,” Philo said. “Two things come specifically to mind in regards to coach Sager … dedication and knowledge. He spent countless hours both game planning and doing all the little things that an organization needs to run and operate at this level of football and semi-pro football is a very difficult venture. He understood every facet of the game, in all three areas, offense, defense and special teams. There was no area he could not coach on the football field and we as players benefitted greatly from this.”
For Robinson, one thing means more to him than all the awards and accomplishments he had on the field as player.
“Nothing I accomplished up until then meant nothing like playing with my brothers,” he said. “We are different in ages so we didn’t do that in high school. I played with my brother Beebe in high school when he was a senior and my brother Cal had already graduated and my brother Jim was in junior high. So when it came to us playing for the Colonials, it was the greatest experience you could ever want.”
They were also the first people he called when he found out he had been selected to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“When I found out I was sort of speechless,” Robinson said. “Then it went through my mind that I have to call my family; I had to call my brothers. I figured that the greatest experience I had up until this was to be able to play with my brothers. I just had to call and tell them and I had to call my sisters who are football fans in their own right.”
After being named the 1974 Empire Football League Defensive Player of the Year, Robinson looked at his stats and was amazed but also realized it was all a step along the way to Canton that started with Saturday night trips to Knox Field to watch the Colonials play in their formative years.
“I did that when they asked for my research on what I had accomplished. I looked at it I looked at it and go Holy smokes. I did all that?” he said. “I look at the situation and all I did was played the game. I just wanted to play football because my whole experience went back years. I had two uncles who played in the early years of the Colonials, Cal Beekman and Dickie Jones. My parents used to pile us into the station wagon and we all went to the games. I think that is what inspired me to play football. It also inspired by sisters to be football fans. They are fanatics. We were all into football.”
Ruggerio remembers watching Robinson play linebacker for the Colonials.
“I used to watch Harry play when I was younger,” he said. “Everyone knew who Harry was. He was a freight train on the field. He was outstanding to watch and I looked up to him as we all did to the other Colonials like Mike Malatino, Joe Hall and Bob Bean. It was a great team that they had for a lot of years.”
Malatino, who was inducted in the AFA Hall of Fame in 2015, is happy to welcome Sager and Robinson to the Hall of Fame where they also join former Colonials, Joe Hall and Bob Bean.
“I think both Rick and Harry are well deserving of the awards they got,” he said. “It is nice to think that we had that many people involved with it [be inducted] and hopefully we will get a couple more. I think it is a testament to the great teams we had back when we played in the late 70s through the early 80s. I played with Harry and he well deserves for the award he got. He was a terrific player. When you were in the huddle he took charge and everybody knew what was going on. It is hard to explain because I believe that the 70s and 80s were like the Golden Years for semi-pro around are area. The teams we played from Glens Falls, Oneonta, Albany, Oneonta, and Watertown. It was a great time to play. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to play with a lot of these guys who are here tonight.”