Sunday night, a day after perhaps Baltimore’s best-ever lineman, Jonathan Ogden, entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Baltimore’s most-beloved lineman, Art Donovan, passed away.
A five-time Pro Bowl selection at defensive tackle, named to the 1950’s All-Decade team, key member of the Colts' championship teams in 1958 and 1959—and Hall-of-Famer—‘Artie’ was 89.
Nicknamed “Fatso,” also the title of his autobiography, Donovan, a former U.S. Marine who fought in the Pacific during World War II, was as tough as nails on the field and fun-loving off it. He garnered a whole new generation of fans in the 1980s with appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, where he shared his rambunctious blend of old school football tales and Irish wit.
But those are not the biggest reasons we loved Artie, a Bronx-native who became Charm City’s favorite adopted son. We all seem, somehow, to have known him, or at least met him, and have our own 'Artie' story. If not, at least we all have a buddy with a little story from a chance meeting at a restaurant, a bar, from a sideline or event at the country club he ran.
As much as we enjoyed chatting him up, he wanted to talk to all of us, too.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Art a few times, twice at length at his house—or more accurately, on his back porch—a cold case of Schlitz nearby both times. Seeing me arrive early for our first interview, sitting in my truck up his driveway while I fumbled to get my tape recorder to work, he drove over in his golf cart to see “what the problem was," as he put it, smiling. I jumped in his golf cart, he steered and immediately began needling me about the faulty machine I'd brought along.
The good-natured needling never stopped. Not on his porch, not out for beers later when he invited me to hang out with some old Colts.
It was his way of letting you know he thought you were alright.
According to the The Baltimore Sun, he died at about 8 p.m. Sunday evening from a respiratory illness, surrounded by his wife Dorothy and family members at Stella Maris Hospice.
The last time I spoke with Artie was about six years ago. I asked him how he looked at his own life, where’d he come from, the pro ballplayer he’d become, the loving family he had, and the city that embraced him.
He told me that he’d always had someone along the way “looking out" for him— from his family, to school pals, to service buddies, to college and pro football teammates, to his wife.
“I’ve been lucky, that’s all,” he said.
We'll miss you Artie.