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Sports Ravens

Donovan's stable is more than Colts

Here's the game ball from a big win in 1958, that championship year.There's the jersey he wore during a Hall of Fame career, No. 70 in theblue-and-white of the Baltimore Colts.

And here, in the barroom at Art Donovan's Valley Country Club, is ... apair of Civil War medals? A letter from Teddy Roosevelt? A turn-of-the-centurycigarette card of a bare-knuckled boxing champ?

Many who have attended wedding receptions or dinner dances at the club'sstately manor house leave there remembering its bar, where a bounty of sportsmemorabilia fills nearly every inch of wall. Now, Donovan and his wife arelooking for a permanent, public home for their copious - and somewhatsurprising - collection.

"Sooner or later we've got to sell the place. We can't go on forever,"Donovan, 76, says of the club, explaining why he and wife, Dorothy, are innegotiations to keep the collection intact by donating it to the Babe RuthMuseum.

While emphasizing that the Towson-area country club is not actively beingmarketed, Donovan says he's been fielding offers for years, adding: "If theprice is right, they can have it."

Babe Ruth Museum officials say they have met with the Donovans with an eyetoward eventually displaying the collection at a planned expansion in arenovated Camden Station.

"The addition of an Artie Donovan wing off a Colts exhibit would be a lotof fun," says Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum. "Threegenerations of athletic prowess within a family is a unique and compellingstory that we'd love to tell."

When you talk about three generations of Donovans, that's where therough-riding Roosevelt comes in. For that matter, that's where one of sport'slegendary showdowns, the Louis-Schmeling title bout of 1936, comes in.

While many know of Art Donovan as the big lug who shone first on thefootball field and later as a television personality, some may not be awarethat his father was a famed boxing referee. Still fewer know that the footballstar's grandfather won a middleweight title while fighting in the 19th century- and gave boxing lessons to the nation's 26th president.

On a paneled wall in the club's bar is a cigarette card depicting a youngMike Donovan, Art's grandfather, who, in the tradition of the era, foughtbouts lasting as many as 90 rounds. The card shows him in the classicput-up-your-dukes bareknuckle boxer pose, shirtless, with handlebar mustache.

On the same wall is an invitation to a 1905 White House reception. Atypewritten letter from Roosevelt, with the salutation "Dear Mike," expressessympathy upon the death of his wife.

A clipping from a 1913 magazine describes how Roosevelt was New York'spolice commissioner when he met Mike Donovan, and quotes Roosevelt:"Afterward, I got to know him well, both while I was governor and while I waspresident, and many a time he came on and boxed with me."

Mike Donovan's son, Arthur Donovan Sr., was a boxer and referee who workedmany of the sport's biggest fights. In the bar is a poster promoting the 1936heavyweight title match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling at New York'sYankee Stadium. A framed, black-and-white photo shows Louis knocked to oneknee, while Donovan seems to direct Schmeling toward a neutral corner.

There's plenty of Arthur Donovan Jr. and Colts material as well. Bronzedfootball cleats. A picture of the 1958 championship team. A huge oil paintingof Donovan standing, gladiator-like, beneath the stadium lights. Of that, hesays, "That's my head on somebody else's body. I was never that ... thin."

Nearer to 80 than his number 70, he remains a salty so-and-so. All thisfootball memorabilia is dismissed with an expletive. If he was coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who seemed to lose heart Sunday while being whipped by thehometown Ravens, "I would've made those [expletive] walk home."

He angrily disputes any suggestion that he and his wife are in a rush tosell the club they've owned since 1956. Yes' the Towson Elks talked to himabout buying it, but the discussions ended up a waste of his time.

Then, another, softer side. He says he found himself home alone the othernight, watching a sports channel rerun of the Louis-Schmeling fight. He got"goose pimples" watching his late father work.

And when asked about his favorite piece of memorabilia, he points to theCivil War medals. His grandfather earned them as a teen-ager fighting for theUnion.

Donovan nods his head.

"He was," he says, "a real tough man."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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