ANOTHER Super Bowl approaches and here's Artie Donovan, legendary Baltimore Colt, almost-octogenarian Hall of Famer and Falstaff of American football. He's holding court from a wheelchair in the kitchen of his Baltimore County house, on the grounds of Valley Country Club, his family business since retirement from football. Artie is home from Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where he had surgery to repair his right hip, injured in a fall. It's a freezing winter day, a good time for a visit. As usual, Artie is generous with his time, opinions and stories.
DR: "So, Art, what happened?"
AD: "I came down the steps over there, and you see where the rug is sticking out? (Gesturing toward runner on bottom step of hallway staircase.) I hit that and -- wow-woo -- I flew up in the air and landed right there -- on the hip -- and I couldn't get up. It was about 7:30 in the morning. Everybody said, 'Ah, ya had half a load on,' and I said, 'I hadn't even had a drink yet.' I called my wife and daughter. I said, 'You better call 911.' Some great guys from the Brooklandville firehouse got me to the hospital."
DR: "Was your hip replaced?"
AD: "I guess so. I tell ya, I never asked."
DR: "So you're not sure what they put in there."
AD: "You hear that cat?"
AD: "That damn cat is back, listen. (Meow heard outside kitchen door). We found him down in the ladies room at the [country club] pool. He goes away for two days, then comes back for two days -- a freeloader. Where were we?"
DR: "Trying to figure out what they put in your hip."
AD: "Before all this happened, they were gonna do my [right] knee. My knee is far worse than my hip."
DR: "So you get the knife on the knee next?"
AD: "Oh, no. Not for a while. I had enough. I had two shoulders operated on. I had my right kneecap taken out after I fell in the pool about 26 years ago. I fell 23 feet and no water in the pool. Broke everything -- my ribs, my knee. Then I was in Africa ..."
DR: "What country?"
AD: "I dunno. Zambeezie. Zambini. Zambia? It was a year and a half ago last March ..."
DR: "Whoa. I have to do the math on that ..."
AD: "... and halfway through this safari we were on -- we were taking pictures of the animals -- I fell about 16 feet into this ravine. I couldn't walk. They got me out of there on a table, and a plane came in the morning, and they evacuated me out of there. I went to see my orthopedic. I had 24 crushed ribs."
DR: "Geez, Art, it would be easier to just watch Animal Planet."
AD: "I love that show."
DR: "And all this happened to you after football."
AD: "Football was easy. I got these therapists. I did more exercising since I broke my hip than I did 13 years in pro football."
DR: "Did you ever break anything in football?"
AD: "Broken leg. Guy fell back on me playing against the Rams. It was one of the smaller bones. I played two weeks later because we didn't have enough guys. Coach said, 'Fall down, someone'll trip over you.'"
DR: "You seem to be recovering from the hip OK."
AD: "I feel fine. I think before the week's over, I'll be able to walk by myself, without a cane. But I'm a little leery. I don't wanna fall again."
DR: "It must be good to be home."
AD: "One night I'm laying in the hospital, watching ESPN Classic at 12 o'clock. They got this guy, Bernstein, he comes on, all about fights, and he had five Joe Louis fights and my father [Arthur Donovan Sr., the first referee inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.] refereed all the fights. And I'm in the hospital and I'm so excited in my bed, trying to get somebody to tell 'em my father is on TV, and I call this girl in and I said, 'Look up there! My father's on TV!' And she says, 'I don't know anything about it. I'm from Zanzibar.'"
DR: "Are you sure she wasn't from Zambini?"
(Phone rings. Donovan takes call, chats briefly and signs off with a colorful barb.)
DR: "Who was that?"
AD: "My sister, Joan, in Manhattan. She's got more money than God. She's worked for Merrill Lynch for 55 years. She was the first woman stockbroker on the block. Clients all over the country. You know where she lives? She wanted to be in St. Patrick's parish, so she's across the street -- 51st and Fifth. She's got a duplex on the 25th floor. She's got more money than God, and she's gonna give it all away to the sisters. I told her, 'Remember me, I'm you're poor brother.'"
AD: "You hear him?"
AD: "The cat."
DR: "What's with you and this cat?"
AD: "He's funny. Hear him meow? He goes away, then he comes back, that damn cat."
DR: "Did you give him a name?"
AD: "Yeah, Kitty."
DR: "How did you feel when you saw the Colts in the playoffs, getting closer to the Super Bowl?"
AD: "Nah, I never even watched 'em. I'll tell you one thing -- this [Peyton] Manning is a great football player, but he choked."
DR: "So what do you say? New England by 7 in the Super Bowl?"
AD: "Who the hell knows? New England is liable to blow them out of there. And the Carolina Panthers -- they got a defense that don't fool around; they come to play. They might blow New England out of there. I'm gonna sit and watch. You gotta root for the guy you know, and I know [Panthers owner] Jerry Richardson. Helluva guy."
DR: "And a great source of hamburgers, right?"
AD: "Yeah, outstanding guy."
DR: "A teammate of yours for one season."
AD: "He came to us in 1959 -- a big, tall, skinny kid. I said, 'They better get him a suit of armor. If he gets hit, he's gonna get killed.' He comes from some college down south [Wofford] that sounds like a disease. He comes, and in the '59 championship game in Baltimore he scores a touchdown -- Unitas throws him a pass, and [Richardson] looked like Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow going down the sideline. He's so excited he runs through the end zone, he runs through the people outside the end zone, and I think he runs into the locker room, and we had to wait for him to come out so we could have the football and kick the extra point. A helluva guy."
DR: "But not a Colt for long."
AD: "We wouldn't give him a $500 raise in '60, so he quit, bought a Hardee's franchise and became a millionaire. Now he owns the Panthers, and there's only two guys ever played in the NFL and own football teams -- George Halas and Jerry Richardson. Outstanding fella. It's like a dream come true for this guy. I root for the guy I know."