Art Donovan, great player and great character, dies at 88

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Art Donovan, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who became known as much for his hilarious persona off the field as for his toughness on the field, has died at the age of 88.

Donovan died on Sunday of a respiratory ailment, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The original Baltimore Colts franchise drafted Donovan in 1950, and that team folded after his rookie season. He then signed with the New York Yanks in 1951. That team moved and changed its name to the Dallas Texans in 1952, and the team then moved again and became the Baltimore Colts in 1953. Donovan liked to joke that he was responsible for putting three teams out of business in his first three seasons.

But once he was established in Baltimore, Donovan became one of the best defensive players in the NFL. A member of the 1950s All-Decade Team, Donovan was a big, strong and powerful defensive tackle who was integral to the Colts’ back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1959. Donovan’s No. 70 jersey has been retired by the Colts.

The author of an autobiography titled Fatso, Donovan loved to joke about his weight, and his humorous anecdotes made him a popular talk show guest. In a 1986 interview with David Letterman, he explained his eating habits by saying, “Some people call it junk food. I call it gourmet food.”

Donovan weighed 275 pounds during his playing days, considered huge at the time, and talked about how much he struggled not to go over 275, which would result in a $2,000 fine. And although Donovan was always in good enough shape to play, he made no secret of the fact that he didn’t particularly enjoy offseason workouts.

“The only weight I ever lifted weighed 24 ounces. It was a Schlitz. I always replaced my fluids,” Donovan said.

They don’t make ’em like Art Donovan anymore. His presence in the football world will be missed.

60 responses to “Art Donovan, great player and great character, dies at 88

  1. DAMN! DAMN!

    Art Donovan went to Boston College with my Dad and they were lifelong friends because of a shared last name.

    I lost touch after Dad passed, but I remember Fatso from when I was a kid. He was a fun old man.

  2. I’ll always remember being a kid and listening to his great stories on NFL films specials. RIP

  3. Rest in peace Art, a true Baltimore legend. Also the fact that the Indianapolis Colts are tagged in this article is a disgrace to Arts name.

  4. I am sorry he did not get to see another NFL season. This sucks that he died the morning of the first preseason game. But, he has had many more seasons to watch then I have had. Rest in peace art.

  5. RIP Artie. I loved the Colts. When they were in Baltimore, in old Memorial Stadium.

  6. RIP Art Donovan. Loved his many appearances on NFL films. Always had the funniest anecdotes. What strikes me though is with all the talk about the dangers of the game, there sure does seem to be a lot of the old NFL guys who live a ripe long life.

    I read a counterintuitive article last year that suggested former NFL players, on average, live longer than athletes from other sports and longer than the general population. I sure do wish someone would explore this topic in depth.

    Concrete Chuck Bednarik, the last real 60 minute man, is still going at age 88.

  7. What a loss. It’s sad that there are fewer and fewer old school players every day. RIP!

  8. Thoiteen TV’s.

    He was a frequent Letterman guest in the 80’s. Always had the best, slightly off color, stories about the old days in the NFL.

    I shall remember him fondly.

  9. Obviously at only 89 years old he died from all the concussions he suffered. Better get in on that lawsuit, family.

    Seriously though I was introduced to his brand of football from those hilarious commercials he did a few years back. What a great player.

  10. I met Art about 35 years ago as my grandfather used to hang out with a few of the old Colts players and drink beer. Extremely nice guy, a true gentle giant. Baltimore will miss you.

    RIP, say hi to my Pop for me.

  11. I saw Art and Ordell Brasse outside of Memorial Stadium before a Ravens game in 1997. When I asked Art what they were doing he said they were looking to buy tickets for the game. When I said that I was surprised he didn’t have free tickets to the game, he said that it wouldn’t be right, why was he special that he didn’t have to pay also. We didn’t just lose Art, we lost part of a lost art with his passing. Rest in peace Art.

  12. RIP Art..A World War II Veteran who served in the USMC and pro football HOFamer and very funny man. Lots of younger fans remember him from his stints on Letterman. Wish the nfl had more of him. You will be missed..

  13. 6-8 years ago I went to a friends wedding reception at a place just inside the Baltimore Beltway (don’t remember the name). As soon as I got there I left my Wife with her girl friends and headed for the bar.

    As soon as I got into the bar I was struck by all the Art Donovan and Colts pictures/paintings covering every inch of every wall. I asked the bartender what the deal was with all the Art Donovan/Colts stuff on the walls and the bartender responded “Its my Dad’s place, my Dad is Art Donovan. If you hang in here for a couple minutes he will show up and drink two Schlitz’s then leave.”.

    Sure enough 10 minutes later Art Donovan comes in a back door and starts drinking a Schlitz. People came up to him to say hi, and he of course responded like you would expect Art Donovan to respond. He finished a 2nd Schlitz and disappeared out the back door. Definitely made my night.

    RIP Art Donovan. You were truly one of a kind, and will be missed.

  14. RIP Art. You were one of the true originals of the NFL, former WWII Vet (Marine) and all around character.

    The NFL and this country needed you and you were there for both of them. Thank you for your service and best wishes to your family.

  15. thanks to Steve Sabol NFL Films I learned about players that played the game decades before I was even born. Though born in 77, I knew a lot about “Fatso” ( as Donovan was so lovingly known) and the Baltimore Colts. his personality was infectious and he is one of the few players I would love to sit and have a beer with and talk football for a day. Unfortunately, I’ll never have that chance. R.I.P. Art Donovan, A great guy and you will be missed. Maybe we’ll have that beer in 50 years or so. Save me a spot in football heaven, bro

  16. What a character….just seemed like a very likeable guy.

    I’ll always remember him by “How much does this guy weigh!?”

    Extra credit if you know what I’m referring to. It was pretty humorous on his part.

  17. Damn. One of my favorite old time players. I remember him in an old episode of a Nickelodeon show called The Adventures of Pete and Pete from when I was a kid and thinking he seemed like a pretty funny and nice guy for a former Nfl football player. I was just a kid then and didn’t know much about the guy then other than he used to play for the Colts. Multi talented for sure and Ill always look forward to seeing clips of him here and there on tv. RIP Art. You will be greatly missed.

  18. If you want to know what football and life was like back “then”, read Art’s book, FATSO. It is a quick read and hilarious.

    You were one of a kind Art. RIP old friend.

  19. Total legend. He was from the generation that made peanuts compared to the guys today, but he could somehow talk about it in a way that was funny, not in a way that came off as bitter. If he was or not, I have no idea, but he never came off that way.

    There are some serious cold-ones being hoisted in football heaven tonight. Enjoy them, Art!! You deserve them?

  20. One of the great football players AND charachters of all-time !

    Rest in peace big guy !!!

  21. A wonderful character…great football player…regular guy with the press and fans alike. A sad day for the sport and society in general.

  22. A Baltimore Colt until the day he died .. Rest in peace my friend. Say hello to Johnny U. And Big Daddy lipscomb while you are at it. Wherever that is, I swish you an endless supply of schlitz

  23. My best memory of Art Donovan: Uncle Fatso and Grandpa Phil sitting on my front porch all day drinking beer and smoking cigars arguing about whether baseball (Grandpa) or Football) was the better sport.

    Then they get me over there and one of then steals my hair and the other steals my nose. They they fight with each other over who gets which one.

    I was too young at the time to realize the comedy happening right in front of me.

    Then Uncle Fatso would just yell to my Dad “Jack, you knew I’m coming over. Why you only get one case of beer? I gotta do everything?”

  24. to bad the players today do not have the class of art donovan. we will never see the likes of him again and thats sad.

  25. My God, the man dies (RIP) and all the whiny crybaby Ravens fans can do is rip the article because, OH MY GOD, it mentions the Indianapolis (Greatest team in Football) Colts….Get over it and move on Baltimore WhinyBabies..yea thats your new team name, its way more fitting then Ravens.

  26. I agree “ColtsWinColtsWin” How can the ravens rip the article because the Indianapolis Colts are mentioned? Isn’t the Baltimore Ravens the team that was the Cleveland Browns until they decided to skip the city for Baltimore? Ravens fans should keep their traps shut on this subject.

    Art Donovan was a class act and football’s rally glory days are long gone and Art was part of those wonderful days.

  27. Tough day for the Colt Nation. Coming not all that long after we lost Bubba and Mackie to boot.

    Hoping Andrew and Reggie and the fellas honor Artie’s memory with another banner year.

  28. Artie Donovan was part of that group of people that made today’s overpaid, self-centered, and spoiled players possible. Most of them could not endure what those who preceded them did, that’s for sure.

    Also too bad that today’s owners don’t have the b***’s like those that Donovan had to deal with on a daily basis.

  29. Art Donovan was such a class act and great man. And he was just so darn funny. The best line I think he ever said was: “The best way to die is to sit under a tree, eats lots of bologna and salami, drink a case of beer and blow up.” It doesn’t sound like Art got to go out the way he wanted, but I hope he went easily, with no pain.

  30. As funny as he was, Donovan was also very candid and the one anecdote from him I’ll always remember was about the end of his playing days.

    They reluctantly cut him because he was done but he insisted on watching the film of his most recent games…maybe it was the old “exhibition” games which are now “preseason games”…and the coach or GM painfully pointed out time and time again that Art was finished based on tale of the tape.

    Donovan said it was a sad moment to see the truth and he humbly admitted to the front office guys because the film didn’t lie…..he was done.

    Took a lot of class to tell that humbling story. The big man had a big dose of it.

  31. Art Donovan was one of a kind. I am from Baltimore and would see him often around town. Many years ago I went to a wedding at the Country Club he and his Wife owned. Notre Dame and USC were on the TV. I went into the bar and Art was there drinking a beer. I asked him to turn on the game and he said his Wife would kick his butt if he did. We had to get permission to watch the game from the bride which we did. I sat with him and laughed for three hours. Every time I saw him after that he remembered me and the stories started again. Just a great guy. He will be missed.

  32. That’s too bad. I’ve always enjoyed listening to the old timers talk about the game back then, and describing their opponents. How nasty guys like Butkus, Nitschke, and Deacon Jones were, and Bobby Layne playing hung over, just for example. Old enemies joking about the good old days. Good stuff.

  33. I have an old VHS tape from NFL Films that has Art talking about a chicken-eating contest between Gino Marketti and another player (Art just called him Joyce) at training camp, which concluded wih Marketti eating 24 pieces of chicken – and losing by 12. Joyce celebrates the win by drinking a whole pitcher of tea, which he sweetened with saccarin, because he was watching his calories. Art was such a great storyteller that I probably watched that tape 100 times.

    My other favorite of his was in the ESPN commercials, when someone asked him about all the torn ACLs, and was that going on in Art’s day. He growled, “No, when I was playing, we didn’t have any cruciates.”

    I hope that if I live into my 80s that I’m even a fraction of the storyteller Art was. RIP.

  34. As a fan of football (Saints!) we have lost a treasure in losing Art Donovan. Condolences to his family and all who cherish the game. His attitude on life is a model for any person from any field or trade. Thank you Art for great memories.

  35. Too bad twitter didn’t exist back then. Donovan was comedy gold and didn’t take himself seriously. Very friendly guy. My dad grew up on the same block where Donovan lived and would tell me stories about how all the kids would play in his yard. Art would just watch them from the porch drinking beer and then wrestle with them on the ground. My dad has a picture of about 10 neighborhood kids hanging off him.

  36. I seriously wonder how all the good comments on this, about resting in peace for a man that was obviously respected, can garner even a single thumbs down vote? The guy died, he didn’t seem to do anything bad, seemed to love the game, and inspired others to do so too. And he seemed involved up until the end of his life, humble. What narcissistic moment prompts a thumbs down at such tributes?

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