At various times in his 67 years, Art Donovan has used this day to give thanks for Spam, the old days in the Bronx, salami, offensive linemen who couldn't block, beer by the case, NFL Films, football on real grass, David Letterman, Italian food, life after 60 and the fact that he got to live in America, because, as he once put it, his ancestors in Ireland didn't have anything to eat.
He has whittled his list considerably this year, though. As his family gathers to eat turkey, dressing and cranberry -- just a guess, but he might try to slink out for a cheeseburger -- Art will drop his head to his ample gullet 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, and the 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 beating too fast. They installed a defibrillator in his chest to make sure it didn't happen again,and told him to stop drinking.
"If I'd known what they were doing, I would have walked out," he said. "I got this thing looks like a deck of cards sitting behind my ribs. They tell me it'll go off when it needs to. Whew. I said, 'How will I know when it goes off?' They said, 'Ho, you'll know.' But they were the best, though. I guess people die from this, and they took care of me."
Not that he was thrilled about giving up beer. "They told me to stop two years ago. I listened for about three months. This time, I'm with them. All this was a slap in the face. It was a sad day, though, no more beer. I'll tell you one thing, some poor guy on the beer line lost his job that day. Take out my 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, I got a bad heart. Of all the people to get it, me, who's been over here a hundred times to visit sick people.' "
But then he turned on the television, and the World Series was on. "And there was this umpire that got shot [Steve Palermo] going out to throw the first pitch, and I said to myself, 'You phony SOB, here's this guy so brave and 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 and people he'd visited in his recent incarnation as a football raconteur. "This guy calls me, says, 'You fatso, that last two pounds of kosher bologna almost did you in, huh?' I tell you, I had so many prayers said for me, all I can do is put an ad in the paper and say thanks."
When he got home, he canceled a dozen scheduled appearances around the country at banquets and quarterback clubs. Then he put his feet in front of the 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. Some of 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 lousy offense. 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 he thinks 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]. He runs around kissing his players and jumping up and down. He's a sketch. So is this [Jerry] Glanville guy who looks like an undertaker."
* "[Rams coach] John Robinson is a hell of a nice guy, but I think he's going to be unemployed. When this [ 49ers quarterback Steve] Bono throws for 300 yards on his defense like the other night, I figure his team has quit on him."
* "What the hell is a pulled hamstring? Isn't that a charley horse? And what is a medium collateral whatever ligament? It sounds like spaghetti with fish sauce."
* "The TV people say, 'This guy is having a Pro Bowl year,' like it's a big deal. I remember when this guy who ran a bar out in L.A., I think he picked the [Pro Bowl] teams. He'd always tell us beforehand whether we made it."
* "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 the guy lies on the ground for 15 minutes and then gets up and runs off. And the TV guy says, 'What a brave guy.' "
Art doesn't figure he'll move from his seat too often for another couple of months, if he can stand all the football. ("I'll wait awhile and then see what'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 the Bologna 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 as Thanksgiving approached with its threat of turkey on his plate, "and I can't start now. Fish. Yuck."