Outstanding player, coach Orbinati made his mark on the gridiron
Michael J. Orbinati made his mark on local football as a star lineman at Rome Free Academy and later as a head coach at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica. He even put his stamp on the NFL, designing the hurry up offense that he shared with college teammate Ted Marchibroda, who in turn introduced it as offensive coordinator under Buffalo Bills’ head coach Marv Levy in the 1990s, an offense nicknamed the K-Gun.
Orbinati is now being honored with induction into the Rome Sports Hall of Fame. He will join other Class of 2020 inductees for a lifetime of excellence along with football star Calvin Griggs, former gymnastics coach Phyllis R. Niemi, hockey star JR Purrington, the late Joseph A. Ryan Jr., who is being inducted as a contributor and three-sport standout Randy J. Williams.
The Rome native played for RFA in the mid-1940s as a right guard. He was a captain in 1947. He was singularly focused on football, not playing any other sports for RFA.
“He was really good at it. He was very successful,” said his daughter Mary Murphy, who lives in Vernon. He was one of four siblings, and the only one of them who went to college. “It opened a lot of doors for him,” she added. His play for the Black Knights earned him a football scholarship to St. Bonaventure University.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure and a master’s degree in health and physical education from Syracuse University. Following graduation, he coached at Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk, NY, at Westfield High School and then freshman football at RFA. He left Rome in 1968 to become head football coach at Proctor. He was the Utica School District’s athletic administrator until his retirement in 1991.
In his years at Cardinal Mindszenty, 1954 to 1962, he enjoyed his greatest success as a coach. In 1958 and 1959, his teams went 15-1, outscoring their opponents 531 to 63. His undefeated 1958 team was the only unbeaten team (8-0) in school history.
“He was a really good all-around guy. He was really popular. He was a leader,” said his daughter.
She was the oldest of his five children. She noted that as the oldest she saw him coach from his early days to the end of his career. The players, she said, “had to perform for him. He was tough in that respect. He expected the best out of his athletes.” In those early days, “he was very excitable,” then later at Proctor, “he was a little bit more subdued.” No matter which season it was, however, “He expected them to work as hard at it as he did as a player and as a coach. He was tough but he was very fair. And he’d do anything for his athletes. He got so many of them into colleges.” She recalled one of his former players telling her: “I owe everything to your father.”
What was it that he loved about coaching? Murphy said: “I think he just loved the contact with the players. He did so much for so many of them along the way. It was just something that he was passionate about. He loved coaching football.” She noted that while he also coached basketball during his time in western New York it was football to which he dedicated so much time.
His legacy is plain to see. After his death at age 82 in 2010, his family established a college scholarship in his memory for a Proctor football player. The family chose to call the Michael J. Orbinati Scholarship, The Run to the Whistle Award. It embodies the sentiment in sports of going all out until the end of every play.
“Just remember him for who he was,” his daughter said. “He was a good person. He loved people. He loved his job. He loved coaching. And he definitely loved the time he spent with his athletes. After it was all over I know he missed it.”
When Murphy got the call that her father would be inducted into the Rome Sports Hall of Fame, “I can’t say I was surprised, because he did coach in Rome a couple years. I had told some other people that he was a candidate for the Chautauqua County Hall of Fame too.” She added, “I was happy about it. I was glad for my father. I know he would have really embraced this if he was here.”
There will be a reception for inductees and other award winners at the Rome Sports Hall of Fame from 2-3:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 31. The Rome Sports Hall of Fame is located to the right of Erie Canal Village and the parking is to the right of the building and the entrance is in the front facing the Village. Extra parking is will be available in the Village parking lot.
The annual induction awards banquet will be held Sunday, July 31, at the Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel starting at 5:30 p.m. The tickets are $35 each. Tickets for children 12 and under are $15. Tickets may be purchased at Rome Sports Hall of Fame, 5790 Rome New London Road. The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The deadline to purchase tickets is Sunday, July 24.
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