Featured Artifact – Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
In 1943, Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Art Donovan, put his college and pro football careers on hold to serve in World War II. Enrolled in Notre Dame, Donovan postponed college, opting instead to enlist in the US Marine Corps. He was later assigned as part of Marine naval detachment to a gunnery crew on the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto, and first saw action during the Marianas Islands campaign. Following service on the San Jacinto, Donovan volunteered to serve as a machine gunner and saw action on Okinawa, After Okinawa, he was reassigned to the 3rd Marine Division on Guam.
After the war, Donovan attended his final three years at Boston College, starting as a two-way tackle the entire time. He was a 26-year old rookie when he joined the Baltimore Colts in 1950. The Colts folded after one season, and Art moved to the New York Yanks in 1951, then played for the Dallas Texans in 1952.
In 1953, the well-traveled Donovan returned to Baltimore to play for the new Colts franchise and, as the Colts developed into a championship team, Donovan developed into one of the best defensive tackles in league history.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive tackle was smart and quick, able both to rush the passer and to move laterally to stop running plays. Donovan was also one of the most popular players in the league. He was an All-NFL selection in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, and 1958. In addition, he played in five straight Pro Bowls.
The Baltimore Colts’ great title teams of 1958 and 1959 featured a terrific defensive line, with future Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti, Don Joyce, “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, and Donovan, who by then had become the complete player. He was equally adept at rushing the passer, reading keys, closing off the middle, and splitting double team blocks. He had the reputation of being almost impossible to trap.
As great of a contributor as he was on the field, many feel he was just as valuable to the Colts as a morale builder, with his sharp wit and contagious laughter. The Colts retired his jersey, Number 70, in 1962 when he left professional football after 12 seasons in the NFL. In 1962, he also became the first Colts player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On set of a video piece for the 2011 Super Bowl, Donovan was flanked by active-duty Marines. After spending most of the shoot making his uniformed co-stars laugh in a serious moment he told the Marines, ‘‘People think the [NFL] players and owners making all that money are heroes. You are my heroes — thank you.”