Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Art Donovan

Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Art Donovan reacts Monday in a hospital room while watching the Ravens play the Steelers. Donovan, hobbled by a broken leg, had no shortage of opinions on the sport today. "I wouldn't have any fun [playing nowadays]," he said. "These guys, they're all in love with themselves." (Colby Ware/Special to The Sun / November 5, 2007)

Art Donovan saw a lot of stuff during his 12 years in pro football, but as the grizzled Hall of Famer settled in to watch the Ravens' game Monday night, something flashed on the TV screen that gave him pause.

"It was a picture of four players getting ready for the game by having their nails polished," Donovan said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"I said to myself, 'This is the beginning of the end.' "

But that wouldn't keep Donovan, the former Baltimore Colts great, from watching the game. When you're stuck in a hospital bed, you take your entertainment any way you can get it.

"C'mon in," Donovan said, beckoning a visitor into his room at Good Samaritan Hospital, where he is recovering from a broken right leg.

Donovan, 83, represents "The Throwback" - to the days when athletes played for love of game, for less money and for their teammates.

Not surprisingly, his 1987 autobiography is titled Fatso: Football When Men Were Really Men.

"Welcome, Fatso," a sign on the wall read. On the sill sat a bouquet from Frank Gifford, the former New York Giants star whose team Donovan and the Colts defeated for NFL championships in 1958 and 1959.

Now on the mend, the five-time All-NFL defensive tackle prepared to watch the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football, a weekly ritual for millions. Here sat Donovan, in a wheelchair - his bum leg propped up with a pillow, a cup of ice water at his side and a look of disgust on his face.

"What a disgrace, watching a game without a Schlitz," he muttered. "Some S.O.B. is going to pay for this."

So, how did you bust the leg, Fatso?

"Broke my femur on a cruise with my wife, in Italy," he said. "I'd walked back to my cabin after dinner with half a plate of spaghetti when I leaned in to open the door. Turns out it was already open so I fell flat on my face like something from the Keystone Kops.

"They drove me to an American hospital in Rome, 3 1/2 hours away. Road must've had 15,000 potholes. I almost bounced out of the ambulance.

"At the hospital, when they lifted me into the bed they put my head halfway through the wall and knocked me out. So I said, 'Don't touch me. If I'm going to die, it'll be in the United States, not in the Middle East somewhere.' "

A week later, Donovan was flown home to Baltimore for surgery. He said he would have kissed the ground if he could have.

"I swear to God, I was so happy as we neared the airport that I didn't care if we crashed, as long as it was on American soil."

Since he retired in 1962, Donovan has been a yarn-spinning emissary for football and the cherub-faced visage of Baltimore, his adopted hometown. For nearly half a century, the Bronx-born raconteur has delighted fans with tales of yore - as Donovan remembers them - and his spin on the game today.

Ten times, Donovan has appeared on David Letterman's late-night talk show.

These days, he watches most Ravens games on TV, attending one or two each season. A rabid fan, he isn't.