Though he grew up and played his high school football in Pittsburgh, Dave Fleck never made the 90-minute drive to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Today, he’ll make that trip, albeit from Niskayuna. And with good reason — the 65-year-old is going to be enshrined in the American Football Association Semi-Pro Hall of Fame.
“I’m very humbled,” said Fleck, who was a standout player and coach for both the Albany Metro Mallers and Troy Uncle Sam teams during the 1970s. “It’s something I never thought about, but it’s a tremendous honor.
“I grew up in a great football area, but never have been to the Hall of Fame. To go for something like this, I’m just so appreciative.”
The 1969 Juniata College graduate’s first taste of football in the Capital Region came two years later, after a job-related relocation from New York City. He and some players from the Schenectady area made the trip up the Northway to play for the Hudson Falls Greenjackets.
“Me and five or six other guys would make the drive from Schenectady,” said Fleck. “We just wanted to play.”
That commute lasted one season, as Fleck stayed closer to home by playing with the Mallers when they entered the Empire Football League.
“I was with the Mallers from 1972 to 1976,” said Fleck, who stopped playing full-time in 1975 to become a player-coach. “Those were some great teams with really good players.”
His last game with the Mallers was a disappointing one.
“We were No. 1 in the country, and we lost to the Greenjackets in the [EFL] championship game on a tipped pass,” Fleck said.
The following year, Fleck took charge of the Troy Titans. He soon changed both the name and fortunes of the team, guiding the newly minted Uncle Sams to an undefeated season. The Sammies repeated as league champs in 1978 (beating the Greenjackets in the championship game), and also reached the EFL final the next two seasons.
Fleck eventually moved on to the Tri-City Giants, and played into the early 1980s.
While pleased with his football career, and even more satisfied with the friends he made through the sport, Fleck said the honor he will receive this weekend never occurred to him.
Tom Manny, one of Fleck’s former players, put him up for nomination, and in May, AFA president Dave Burch called with the good news.
“Unbeknownst to me, Tom put my name in there,” said Fleck, a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan who went to school with Mike Ditka’s brother. “It just shows how many connections you make in sports. Dave played for Binghamton, and Dick Leland, who played for a long time with the Greenjackets, is on the [AFA] board of directors.
“That call just lifted my spirits. I can’t tell you how much.”
As for comparisons to players in the NFL Hall of Fame, Fleck said the players honored by the AFA have blazed their own trail.
“We can’t all play in the NFL,” Fleck said. “But it shows you don’t have to go to the NFL to keep playing at a good level.”
While the 18 members of the AFA’s 32nd Hall of Fame induction — including former Greenjackets player Lawrence Pollic of Ballston Spa — won’t get all the perks afforded former NFL greats at their Canton inductions, Fleck is holding out hope that he might return to Niskayuna with an addition to his wardrobe.
“You know how they get those yellow sports jackets,” Fleck said of the NFL Hall of Famers. “I don’t know, but someone called to check on my jacket size.”