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Art Donovan’s NFL Championship ring, stolen in 1977, returns to Baltimore

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One of Art Donovan’s fondest memories was being introduced at Yankee Stadium as starting defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts. It was Dec. 28, 1958, and Donovan stood four miles from his boyhood home in the Bronx, about to play in the NFL Championship.

Four quarters and a thrilling overtime later, Donovan and the Colts had beaten the New York Giants in a contest many consider the greatest NFL game ever played. Among the spoils of the victory was a 14-karat gold ring sporting a large diamond, the Colts’ iconic horseshoe and the words: “Baltimore Colts World Champions.”

Donovan never wore the ring: His wife, Dottie, made it into a bracelet with their college and high school rings. In 1977, the bracelet was stolen from their hotel room in Hong Kong, where they were on vacation. Last week, it found its way back to Donovan by way of a deceased jewelry collector, the Internet and Howard County detectives.

“To tell the truth, after a while I forgot all about it until I got a call from the detectives,” Donovan, 87, said in an interview Tuesday. “I felt very happy. It’s a lovely looking ring. But I treasure the memory more than anything.”

Howard police said Tuesday that they found the ring after a memorabilia store owner and a friend of Donovan’s reported a Craigslist ad that advertised it. After posing as buyers — the online listing asked for $20,000 and requested “serious buyers only” — the detectives told the seller, an Ellicott City man, that it had been stolen.

They then returned the ring to Donovan at his Baltimore area home. Police declined to charge anyone in the case.

The ring’s path from Hong Kong to Ellicott City might never be known. But county police reports show that its trail picks up sometime in 1997 or 1998, when Harry Edward Wehner III apparently bought it at a bar in Curtis Bay, Md.

Wehner, a retired UPS driver and jewelry collector, had opened a Harley-Davidson store in Elkridge with his wife in 1991. Sometime in the late 1990s, after a $40,000 Las Vegas slots victory, Wehner bought the ring for $15,000, he told his wife, according to police.

The ring was engraved with Donovan’s name and jersey number — 70 — and the seller told Wehner that it had been stolen in Japan, according to police reports. Wehner told his wife that when he contacted Donovan about the ring, he was told that he didn’t want it back because an insurance payment had been received for it, the reports said.

The ring sat in a red liquor bag in Wehner’s safe for years. Wehner died in 2000. His wife, now remarried, found the ring and decided to sell it. Her husband posted it online. And then the police stepped in.

“After interviewing the seller, police determined that he did not know the ring had been stolen,” said Sherry Llewellyn, a Howard police spokeswoman. “The seller relinquished the ring to police and agreed it should be returned to Donovan.”

Calls to the seller and his wife were not returned Tuesday.

Police sent the ring to the Indianapolis Colts — which despite leaving Baltimore in 1983 maintain the team’s records – and to the ring’s manufacturer to authenticate it. Which they did.

Donovan’s insurance agent — James Mutscheller, a teammate on the 1958 Colts team — confirmed that Donovan never filed a claim for the ring. Detectives then delivered it to Donovan.

“It’s a beautiful ring,” said Donovan, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and Baltimore legend who watched the Baltimore Ravens practice Tuesday. “It’s sitting right in front of me. At my age, what I have are memories and great friends. This allows me to relive those memories again.”

Donovan said the final moments of the championship game will live with him forever. It was overtime in the Bronx, and Mutscheller caught a six-yard pass. On third down, with the Colts on the Giants’ one-yard-line, running back Alan Ameche got the ball.

“When Alan Ameche broke the goal line, I couldn’t believe it,” Donovan said, remembering the decisive moment of the historic 23-17 victory. “After all the lousy teams I played with, to play with the real champs, I didn’t know what to say. I enjoyed every minute of it. I’ll remember every minute of it.”

But Donovan still isn’t going to wear the ring on his finger, he said. It’s tucked away in a safe.

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