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This year, Donovan has some hearty thanks to give

At various times in his 67 years, Art Donovan has used this day to givethanks for Spam, the old days in the Bronx, salami, offensive linemen whocouldn't block, beer by the case, NFL Films, football on real grass, DavidLetterman, Italian food, life after 60 and the fact that he got to live inAmerica, because, as he once put it, his ancestors in Ireland didn't haveanything to eat.

He has whittled his list considerably this year, though. As his familygathers to eat turkey, dressing and cranberry -- just a guess, but he mighttry to slink out for a cheeseburger -- Art will drop his head to his amplegullet and give thanks for the fact that, as he said the other day, "I'm here,right?"

Not that it was ever iffy, but things did get a little scary last month,starting that night when he leaned over to get into his car after a party, andthe next thing he knew his wife was yelling at him and beating on his chest.

"I never felt any pain at all," he said. "When I came to I said, 'OK,let's go home.' But everyone says, 'No way,' and I guess I was sweating a lot,and five minutes later I'm in an ambulance."

He wound up seeing a series of doctors ("the plumber, the electrician. ..") whose consensus was that he had an enlarged heart that had started beatingtoo fast. They installed a defibrillator in his chest to make sure it didn'thappen again,and told him to stop drinking.

"If I'd known what they were doing, I would have walked out," he said. "Igot this thing looks like a deck of cards sitting behind my ribs. They tell meit'll go off when it needs to. Whew. I said, 'How will I know when it goesoff?' They said, 'Ho, you'll know.' But they were the best, though. I guesspeople die from this, and they took care of me."

Not that he was thrilled about giving up beer. "They told me to stop twoyears ago. I listened for about three months. This time, I'm with them. Allthis was a slap in the face. It was a sad day, though, no more beer. I'll tellyou one thing, some poor guy on the beer line lost his job that day. Take outmy beer money, and someone's getting fired."

In the beginning, he found himself in a room in St. Joseph Hospital,feeling sorry for himself. "Real sorry," he said. "I'm going, 'Jesus Christ, Igot a bad heart. Of all the people to get it, me, who's been over here ahundred times to visit sick people.' "

But then he turned on the television, and the World Series was on. "Andthere was this umpire that got shot [Steve Palermo] going out to throw thefirst pitch, and I said to myself, 'You phony SOB, here's this guy so braveand you're sitting around moping.' That woke me up. I was fine after that."

He got hundreds of cards and phone calls from friends, teammates andpeople he'd visited in his recent incarnation as a football raconteur. "Thisguy calls me, says, 'You fatso, that last two pounds of kosher bologna almostdid you in, huh?' I tell you, I had so many prayers said for me, all I can dois put an ad in the paper and say thanks."

When he got home, he canceled a dozen scheduled appearances around thecountry at banquets and quarterback clubs. Then he put his feet in front ofthe television and started watching football. "I've seen a lot this year,although it better be a good game for me to make it from start to finish. Someof these teams, they're awful."

As usual, he was not without opinions and observations:

* "Ditka must be the best coach in the league to win with that lousyoffense. They can't move an inch.Not even on Miami, which is saying something.Harbaugh, he just runs around as soon as he gets the ball. And he says hethinks he's the best quarterback in the league. He must be smoking dope."

* "Everyone thinks Buffalo is so great. They can't stop anyone."

* "My favorite guy is this new coach of the Patriots [Dick MacPherson]. Heruns around kissing his players and jumping up and down. He's a sketch. So isthis [Jerry] Glanville guy who looks like an undertaker."

* "[Rams coach] John Robinson is a hell of a nice guy, but I think he'sgoing to be unemployed. When this [ 49ers quarterback Steve] Bono throws for300 yards on his defense like the other night, I figure his team has quit onhim."

* "What the hell is a pulled hamstring? Isn't that a charley horse? Andwhat is a medium collateral whatever ligament? It sounds like spaghetti withfish sauce."

* "The TV people say, 'This guy is having a Pro Bowl year,' like it's abig deal. I remember when this guy who ran a bar out in L.A., I think hepicked the [Pro Bowl] teams. He'd always tell us beforehand whether we madeit."

* "I like it when a guy gets hurt and two trainers, the assistant trainer,the chaplain, the team doctor and the equipment manager go out there, and theguy lies on the ground for 15 minutes and then gets up and runs off. And theTV guy says, 'What a brave guy.' "

Art doesn't figure he'll move from his seat too often for another coupleof months, if he can stand all the football. ("I'll wait awhile and then seewhat's going on.") And he promises this time he really has given up beer.

But about that diet his doctors mentioned, the fish and chicken diet?Well, understand, he is thankful he's here and all that, but a man in theBologna Hall of Fame can only change so much at once, right?

"I've never eaten that fish and chicken junk in my life," he said asThanksgiving approached with its threat of turkey on his plate, "and I can'tstart now. Fish. Yuck."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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