LOS ANGELES, August 4, 2013 — On Hall of Fame weekend, the NFL lost one of the great characters in the history of the league. Hall of Famer Art Donovan left us at age 89 for the big stadium in the sky.
Donovan was the very first player ever drafted by the Baltimore Colts. In 1968, the standout defensive tackle was inducted into the very Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio that takes center stage each first weekend in August. It was sheer poetry that he died on the very weekend that honors the best of professional football.
In addition to being a great player, he was one of the game’s great characters. Always good for a fun quote or football anecdote, his later years saw him become a frequent guest of late night talk shows.
He would often playfully mock the current generation of players as being soft, but never in a mean-spirited way. He would brag about the toughness of his generation, but with plenty of self-deprecation mixed in.
When told a player suffered a hip pointer, Donovan dismissed such an injury as impossible in his playing days.
“Hip pointer? I didn’t have any hips.”
He frequently joked about all the cutting edge medical treatment the players received after games. In his day, to recover from injuries and pain, “We just drank a six-pack of Schlitz.”
In August of 2006, my own visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies resulted in being the gentle target of his quips. Seeing my Jewish fedora, he called out “Hey Rabbi, come here a second.”
He regaled me with his stories of growing up Jewish in Brooklyn. Upon questioning whether he was really Jewish, he responded, “No, I’m just an Irish B.S.er.”
He then recommended that if youngsters like myself were going to treat him to lunch and hear more stories, they had “better hurry up. I’m old, you know.”
While Donovan loved telling his football stories, he was far more modest about his real war stories. A Marine veteran of World War II, he fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Yet he was always comfortable about talking about his battles in the trenches of the Baltimore defensive line. He was drafted in the 22nd round in 1947 (The NFL Draft is now only seven rounds). He took pride in playing football during the days when players were not required to wear helmets. He often joked that his intellect was a result of too many hits to his helmetless head. His 1987 autobiography was entitled “Fatso.”
For all the jokes at his own expense, he was a very smart football player. He made the Pro Bowl in five straight years from 1953 through 1957. He was on the Colts teams that one consecutive NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. The victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game was the first NFL game to require overtime. It is still known 55 years later as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Johnny Unitas handed the ball to Alan Ameche to win the game, and Weeb Ewbank was the legendary coach. Yet it was Donovan and the defense that came up big in critical situations in that game.
Art Donovan was part of the most significant moments in NFL and American history. Yet it is his enduring sense of humor that endeared to many generations of football and non-football fans decades after he retired.
Football at its core is a game, and is meant to be fun. Art Donovan made it fun, and poked fun about his game experiences while always honoring and respecting the game of football itself.
For so many reasons, he will be missed.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog. Follow us: @wtcommunities on Twitter
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