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1958 Baltimore Colts Book

The Professional Football Researchers Associa­tion unveiled the second in its series of Greatest Teams in Pro Football History at the meeting in Buffalo over the weekend.

I wrote three of the biographies in the book:

  • Art Donovan
  • Don Joyce
  • Gino Marchetti
I'll post them here over the next weeks.

Art Donovan
Arthur "The Bulldog" Donovan Jr. was one of two Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive linemen on the Baltimore Colts' 1958 and 1959 National Football League championship teams.
He weighed a whopping 17 pounds when he was born June 5, 1924, in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. His father, Arthur Donovan Sr., was the most famous referee in all of boxing during the 1930s and 1940s. His father's father, "Professor" Mike Donovan, was the world middleweight boxing champion in the 1870s. Both Mike and Arthur Sr. are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He played football at Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx despite suffering from osteomyelitis at a young age, a malady, as he admitted later, that he hid "from every coach and team doctor I've played for since." Young Arthur received a football scholarship to Notre Dame. But after one semester in South Bend when freshmen were not eligible for varsity play, he joined the Marine Corps in April 1943. He served in the Pacific during World War II and participated in some of the fiercest battles in that theater, including the famous Battle of Iwo Jima. He earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal. Years later, he became the first pro football player inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame.
After the war, Donovan tried to enter hometown Fordham University, his first college choice all along. When that didn't happen, he decided to continue his college football career at another Jesuit school, Boston College. The arrival of the 6' 250-pound "son of the famous fight referee of New York" for spring practice in 1946 was duly noted in the Boston press. One of his teammates on the line was Ernie Stautner, who would also be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another member of the well-stocked line was Art Spinney, a future Colts teammate of Donovan. Since the NCAA had made freshmen eligible during the war, Art lettered four times at tackle or guard and helped the Eagles compile a 20-13-3 record. Donovan's #70 jersey was retired by his alma mater.

L-R: Art Donovan, Ernie Stautner, Art Spinney
The New York Giants picked Donovan in the 22nd round of the 1947 NFL Draft but, even though the Giants were his hometown team, he chose to stay in school. After his senior year, Baltimore chose him with their extra pick in the third round of the 1950 NFL draft. The Colts were one of three teams of the All-America Football Conference that were absorbed by the NFL for the 1950 season.
The 26-year-old rookie played in all twelve games at right defensive tackle for the Colts, who emerged victorious just once and became the only NFL team to surrender more than 50 points in four games. At the end of the year, the Colts owner, Abraham Watner, in financial distress, sold the team to the league, which folded the franchise and dumped all the players into the 1951 draft.
The Cleveland Browns drafted Donovan in the fourth round. But he started the preseason camp on the injured list. To get down to the 38-player limit for the regular season, the Browns sent Art and another player to the New York Yankees, who played in his home borough in the stadium where Art Sr. had refereed many championship bouts. The Browns got a 1952 draft choice in return. Art again played in all 12 games during the '51 season. The Yanks did slightly better than the '50 Colts, winning one game but also tying one.
In a recurrence of what happened to Art's first NFL team, the Yankees' financially-strapped owner Ted Collins sold the team back to the league. The NFL decided to grant a franchise to a Dallas-based group and assigned the entire Yanks roster to the new team. So Donovan moved again.
It didn't seem possible that his third NFL season could end worse than either of the other two, but it did. The winless Texans didn't even make it to the end of the season before the owners, unable to make payroll, threw in the towel. The team played its final two "home" games in Akron OH, where they upset the Chicago Bears to make it three seasons in a row that Donovan's club won but a single game. Art suffered a cracked bone in his ankle and a damaged knee in the sixth game that ended his season.
The next incarnation of Art's franchise would provide the stability he needed to fashion a Hall of Fame career. Wooed by NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, Carroll Rosenbloom agreed to form a group of investors to purchase the Dallas franchise and move it to Baltimore. The cost? $13,000.
The new Colts started 3-9 under Keith Molesworth - a poor record but for Donovan as many wins as he experienced in his first three NFL seasons combined. He started a streak of five straight seasons making the Pro Bowl. The next year, Weeb Ewbank came from the Cleveland Browns to take over the club and started building the foundation for a championship team five years later. 1954 began another five-year streak for Donovan of making at least one All-NFL team each year.
Finally able to sink some roots, the Bronxite married a local girl and spent the rest of his life in Baltimore. One of the most popular Colts, Art started a liquor store that he owned for 21 years.
When the Colts advanced to the championship game in 1958, how fitting that it was played in Yankee Stadium in Donovan's old stomping grounds in the Bronx. He helped the Baltimore defense hold the Giants to only 88 yards rushing on 31 attempts, a paltry 2.8 yards per carry.
The following season, the Colts and Giants met again for the championship. Baltimore's 31-16 triumph was not nearly as exciting as the previous year's classic.
Art characterized the great defense of the championship years like this: "We were in the same formation, a four-three, ninety-nine percent of the time. We never blitzed. They figured we should put pressure on the passer without the blitz, and we didn't want to blitz because we figured we were all doin' our job."
Donovan played through the 1961 season, missing only two games in his nine years with the Colts. The franchise retired his number 70 in 1962. Five years later, he became the first Baltimore Colt to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo of the Green Bay Packers said this about Donovan: "Some of the greatest football ever played by a defensive tackle was played by Art Donovan. He was one of the greatest people I played against all my life."
After retiring from football, Art fashioned a career as a self-deprecating comic story-teller, football's version of baseball's Bob Uecker (except that Uecker was not a Hall of Fame player). Donovan's teammates already knew that side of him. Dick Syzmanski: "Wherever Artie goes, people always crowd around him, and he makes them laugh. Isn't that a gift?" Art appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson multiple times and did ten stints on "Late Night with David Letterman." Letterman issued this statement on the occasion of Art's death: "We always looked forward to Art coming on the show because he would not only tell a great story, he just made you happy he was there. He was always humble and self-effacing, a guy from a different era of professional football who could make anyone laugh. We will miss him." Art also gained fame by appearing in TV commercials, including the Miller "Tastes great! Less filling!" series and one during Super Bowl XLI with Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno.

Art Donovan and David Letterman
Donovan's most famous lines dealt with one of his main themes – his weight. "I was a light eater. When it got light, I started eating." And another: "Some people call it junk food. I call it gourmet food." On getting into shape: "The only weight I ever lifted weighed 24 ounces. It was a Schlitz. I always replaced my fluids."
Donovan died of a respiratory ailment August 5, 2013, at age 89 surrounded by his family.
Back from Buffalo
I spent Friday and Saturday in Buffalo NY at the biannual meeting of the Professional Football Researchers Association.
  • The sessions were held at the Buffalo Historical Museum, which is the only building remaining from the 1901 PanAmerican Exhibition in Buffalo where President William McKinley was assassinated.
  • The first presentation was by Greg Tranter, a native of Buffalo who has accumu­lated a trove of 4800 Bills artifacts, from game-worn jerseys to helmets to pro­grams to ticket stubs to cups and anything else that has the Bills logo on it. He told stories about some of the more interesting articles.
  • Saturday, he gave us a tour of the new exhibit at the museum on Buffalo sports history that includes many items of his $1 million football collection, which he has donated to the Museum.

Through his contacts with the Bills organization, Greg obtained a number of former players to speak to us. The biggest name was Hall of Fame RB Thurman Thomas, a member of the Bills' four consecutive Super Bowl teams.

  • Growing up in Florida, Thomas play­ed only baseball, his dream being to play SS for the New York Yankees.
  • When his mother moved the family to Houston, he entered 8th grade at a school that did not have a base­ball team. So he reluctantly agreed to join the football team. He had moderate success as a RB that year.
  • The next year on the high school freshman team, he left practice one day because his heart just wasn't in football. His mother and the coach persuaded him to stay with it and by the time he finished high school, he was one of the most sought-after RBs in Texas. Thurman's athletic ability is illustrated by the fact that he made All-State both at RB and DB.
  • Texas and A&M both recruited him as a DB. So he snubbed the in-state schools to go to Oklahoma State, which wanted him as a RB.
  • He rewarded Coach Pat Jones by gaining 4,595y in three years as a Cowboy before entering the NFL draft.
  • His second and third years at OSU, Thomas had a backup named Barry Sanders, who, of course, is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a sensational career with the Detroit Lions.

We also heard from members of the Bills' 1963-64 AFL championship teams: DB Booker Edgerson, WR/DB Ed Rutkowski, and trainor Ed Abramoski.

Saturday's daylong agenda ended with a Pro Football Quiz Bowl contest that I put together.

  • Each attendee who wanted to participate took a 50-question written qualifying exam. The top three met in a Quiz Bowl Tournament in the auditorium in the museum.
  • I brought the Quiz Bowl equipment from Brother Martin High School in an extra suitcase and set it up.
  • Quiz Bowl consists of tossups and bonuses. Each tossup is worth 10 points and is open to all three contestants. The one who gets it right then gets a bonus, which can earn him 20, 25, or 30 depending on the number of parts of the question.
  • The spirited competition lasted 30 minutes with a clear winner decided.
  • Starting with this edition, I'll be posting many of the questions from the qualifying test and the finals over the next few months for our visitors to this site to try their hand.

Ed Rutkowski speaks as trainer Ed Abramoski and Booker Edgerson listen.
Questions from PFRA Quiz Bowl - 1

In each case, a category is listed along with four names. Which one doesn't fit the category?
Example:   Teams in the NFC South.
                  Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Redskins
Answer:     Redskins

  1. Head coaches in the American Football League's inaugural year of 1960
    Sammy Baugh, Al Davis, Lou Rymkus, Lou Saban

  2. Members of the 1974 Pittsburgh "Steel Curtain" Front Four
    John Banaszak, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, Dwight White
  3. Heisman Trophy winners who were MVPs of the Super Bowl
    Tony Dorsett, Desmond Howard, Jim Plunkett, Roger Staubach
  4. Rushers in the top five in total yardage in NFL history
    Curtis Martin, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson
  5. Top Ten career receptions leaders who were drafted in the first round
    Tony Gonzalez, Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Jason Whitten
  6. Teams that have met exactly twice in the Super Bowl.
    Cowboys - Bills, 49ers - Bengals, Cowboys - Steelers, Redskins - Dolphins

To be continued ...

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About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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