Art Donovan, Hall of Fame player and storyteller, dies (video)

August 5, 2013
Art Donovan in 2008. (Gail Burton / AP) Art Donovan in 2008. (Gail Burton / AP)

The word “legend” is thrown around far too easily these days, but a true NFL legend died Sunday.

Art Donovan, who died in Baltimore at the age of 89, was a Hall of Fame player for the Baltimore Colts who was rediscovered by modern audiences, particularly in interviews with David Letterman, because of his legendary ability to tell a story. The best seat in any room was always the one closest to Donovan.

He tipped the scale at around 300 pounds and wrote an autobiography called “Fatso,” filling it with tales of pranks and inside gossip. One time, he tried to take a swim in a hotel shower stall, filling it with water, which worked well — until it didn’t. The door burst and his room and the one beneath it were flooded. During his days in the service, he swiped a case of Spam and was given the option of eating it or going to the brig. He polished it off in in five days. He was, he said, a light eater. “When it got light,  I started eating.”

In a classic 1986 interview on “Late Night with David Letterman,” Donovan, the son of a boxing referee, noted: “I went to college to play football, not to study it.”

Alex Sandusky, a former teammate, told the Baltimore Sun that Donovan’s stories were numbered. “Going to games, he’d sit in the last seat on the bus, the widest one. That was our ‘story room.’ Then he’d say, ‘This is No. 46 coming up.’”

Donovan appeared on the “Tonight” show as well and told Johnny Carson in 1990: “You know you’re big when you sit in the bathtub and the water in the toilet rises.”

In Baltimore, he knew pitched an exterminator to get rid of termites, not “cock-a-roaches.”

Donovan’s wife, Dorothy, was by his side when he died and he’d left her with a suggestion for just how he should be memorialized.

“If my wife don’t send me off with a case of Schlitz in the coffin, I’m going to haunt her.”

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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