First Name: Bill
Last Name: Robinson
Sport: Football
Inductee Type: Athlete
Year Inducted: 2023
Home Town: Halifax
County: Halifax

Teammates, coaches, commentators, and Canadian football enthusiasts will all tell you the same thing—even after watching more than half a century of the game, one name stands out as the greatest pure passer, most dedicated worker, and the ultimate university quarterback—that name is Bill Robinson.

After winning the Toronto City Championship and being named a City All-Star while playing high school football, Robinson took the offer to come to Saint Mary’s University (SMU) because Coach Al Keith’s offensive philosophy gave him the opportunity to show his skill at throwing the ball during a time when most teams were devoted to the running game.

Teammate and wide receiver Bruce Hopkins likens catching a ball thrown by Robinson to “catching a pillow.”

“His arm was tremendous, both in velocity and accuracy. You turn around— the ball’s there, all the time.”

Hopkins also recalls Robinson’s commitment to additional practice. “We [Robinson and the receivers] went out and we just ran patterns, worked on his timing and our timing. He knew exactly when everybody was going to break on a five-yard out.”

“The other players on the team started seeing us do this. All of a sudden the defensive backs started showing up, [and] the linebackers, so we were actually doing seven-on-seven drills,” says Hopkins. “That made him a lot better and made everybody else a lot better as well.”

Defensive coach Doug Wright also remembers how Robinson pushed the rest of the team: “If one of these guys didn’t show up for the early practice, which was a tradition, he’d hear from Bill.”

The team was inspired by Robinson’s work ethic and determination to win. He practiced hard, was extremely competitive, and carried himself with a winning attitude.

Robinson, in turn, was inspired by SMU’s great athletic program that he feels drove all of the university’s sports teams. “Everybody wanted to win,” he says.

Broadcaster Steve Armitage also recalls Robinson’s desire to win: “That’s all Billy wanted to do, was win, and when they lost those first two attempts to get to the Vanier Cup, Billy was determined in ‘73, they were going to go to the Vanier Cup, and they were going to win it.”

“He instilled a lot of confidence in the players,” says Hopkins.

SMU was playing more experienced teams because of the four-year rule for the Atlantic University Football Conference (AUFC), while the rest of the country allowed players to remain in their conferences for five years. Despite that, both Robinson and the team had their best year yet in the 1972-73 season. The Huskies finished first in the conference, including a 21-7 victory over UPEI in the AUFC Championship game, in which Robinson rushed for three touchdowns.

Going into the 1973 Atlantic Bowl, the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks were heavily favoured to win. The Huskies authored one of the biggest upsets in Canadian Football history when they defeated Laurier 19-17, with Robinson throwing key late passes to his tight end, Steve Telfer, before finding all-star wide receiver Ken Clark for the winning touchdown in the final two minutes.

Heavy rains at the 1973 Vanier Cup prevented Robinson from showcasing his arm, as the only two game balls soon became fully waterlogged, but it was Robinson’s unwavering dedication to perfection in the pivotal quarterback role that had led the team to that point. And with the same hunger to win they had carried all season, the team brought home Saint Mary’s and Atlantic Canada’s first national university championship, defeating the McGill Redmen 14-6.
Robinson credits the Huskies’ “tremendous team unity” for their Vanier Cup win. “We had paid our dues,” he says.

Robinson and the Huskies lost only two league games in his four years as starting quarterback, and he consistently led the Atlantic Conference in all passing categories. He notably achieved his individual records in a six-game season, as opposed to today’s eight-game regular season schedule. His CIAU national touchdown record stood until broken by fellow Hall of Famer Chris Flynn. He was a three-time AUFC MVP (1971, ’72, and ’73), an AUFC All-Star for four consecutive years, and the 1970 Rookie of the Year. He was inducted into the SMU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.

“Bill, in my opinion, was the best quarterback to ever play college football in Canada,” says Wright.

Playing for Western University in his final year of eligibility, Robinson led his team to a 10-1 season and a 1974 Vanier Cup victory against Toronto. He was named Team MVP and All Canadian Quarterback in the process.

“I think Billy Robinson helped to put Canadian College football on the map,” says Armitage.

Robinson then took his considerable knowledge of the game to the Canadian Football League, at a time when American imports made Canadian quarterbacks a rarity in the CFL. He played with the Ottawa Rough Riders from 1975 to 1978, winning a Grey Cup with the team in 1976. His Grey Cup win cemented his reputation as a winner, giving him championships at every level—high school, university and pro.

After retiring as an athlete, he continued his love for sport in a variety of capacities, serving as assistant football coach and offensive coordinator for the Huskies from 1985 to 1994, and chairing the AUS Women’s Basketball Championships, the Atlantic Bowl, and the CIS Final 8 Basketball Championship. He cemented his sport legacy as an adopted Nova Scotian by becoming the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame’s first paid employee and CEO, holding the position for 34 years.

1973 proved to be a winning year for Robinson off the field as well, as he also married his wife and greatest supporter, Barbara-Jo. Their two kids, Billy and Kristi-Jo, both attended SMU and achieved AUS All-Star status—Kristi-Jo as the captain of the women’s basketball team and Billy as the quarterback of two Vanier Cup-winning teams, continuing the great Robinson athletic tradition.

*Article by Katie Tanner*

*SMU Photos from SMU Archives*


Two-time Vanier Cup winner, 1973 (SMU) and 1974 (Western)
Quarterback for SMU Huskies for four seasons, named League All-Star every season, and led the conference in every major passing category
Three-time League MVP, 1971-73
Grey Cup winner, 1976