Just about the healthiest looking patient in all of St. Joseph's Hospital is in Room 407. Certainly the strongest. Art Donovan may look like an animated bowl of jello when it comes to muscle definition, but he has the strength to knock down a building.
Donovan, the first Baltimore Colt to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame, whimsical star of stage, screen, radio and television, had a spell of dizziness that caused his wife, Dorothy, to summon an ambulance. St. Joseph's Hospital will never be the same.
"The Good Lord gave me a warning," he said. "And believe me, I got the message. No more drinking. That's over with. My hand to God."
At one time, Donovan would drink a case of beer a day, absorbing it as though he was a giant sponge, and still be able to walk a straight line. But he finally stopped after a good doctor friend gave him an ultimatum. "That was most commendable," acknowledged Dorothy.
With Donovan laying off the suds, it necessitated a cut-back in production at the brewery of his favorite brand. Artie was never a problem drinker, but his friends wanted to see him ease off to assure continuing good health and a long life.
"The other night, at a restaurant, I had about eight glasses of white wine," he recalled. "I got woozy. I hadn't eaten much during the day. The doctors are giving me tests. The most important thing they found out, from checking my blood, is I didn't have a heart attack."
Upon arrival at the hospital, a reading, which is assumed to be accurate, was taken on his weight. The scale stopped at 302. But he has already lost 10 pounds. An encouraging sign.
"Yeah, a lot of my friends have been in to see me," he observed with pleasure. "Like Jimmy Mutscheller, Sisto Averno, who came with me to the Colts in 1950; Art DeCarlo, George Young's step-cousin, who is a priest; and Tom Davis, the broadcaster. Ordell Brasse is out in South Dakota at a reunion at his old school, or he would have been here. I call him 'Bugs'."
Donovan then said he'd been giving a lot of thought to "Big Daddy," the other tackle on Baltimore's NFL title teams of 1958 and '59, one Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb.
"Yeah, I've been thinking of 'Daddy.' Gee, how about the time we were practicing before a game with the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Barbara and were dressing in the swimming pool locker room by the hotel.
"I remember 'Daddy' shoved out his arm to full length and showed it to our coach, Weeb Ewbanks [he still likes to put an 's' on Ewbank's name]. Weeb didn't know what the hell to think. Whew, that 'Big Daddy' had some arm."
Next Arthur started to reflect on his boyhood days in the Bronx, when he was a part of a neighborhood "army" that would drill every Saturday under the generalship of Eddie McCarthy. "Eddie was one of our crowd. He was crazy. One time, he was fooling around with some gunpowder or something and blew the roof off the garage. He burned all his hair off. The last time I saw Eddie was in 1946 and he was going to Mexico to hunt gold."
What about another member of your old crowd, one Jerry Sheridan? "Gee, what a good looking guy. But he was one of those top-shelf Irishmen. He had a hat, but he would carry it. He'd be walking to church on Sunday carrying his hat. I never saw anything like it. A charmer.
"One time in Chicago, after a game, we were at the Windemere East. I was at the bar with Sam Banks, our publicity man, and a sports writer. We were having a few laughs. Suddenly, they paged me. I figure who the hell knows me in Chicago?
"It was Jerry Sheridan. He invited us to a party at the Drake Hotel. We went over and took Dick Barwegen. What a time we had. Some oil millionaire from St. Louis named Dolan, I think his first name was Jimmy, or something. We drank a bathtub of beer and he told us, 'Boys, order all the steak sandwiches you want.' We had some time. On the way back in a cab, we saw old 'Tuffy,' another sports writer, sitting on a curbstone. He might have been drunk, too. I tell you, they were some days back then."
Donovan is impressed and thankful for the hospital care.
"Yeah, all these wonderful nuns come in here and say, 'God bless you,' and tell me I'm a wonderful boy. They ought to know what a rat I am."
But Arthur has been known to be self-deprecating. Another example.
Have you heard from "Big Stoop," he was asked, a reference to some boxer he fought in a inter-regimental match in the Marine Corps?
"I never liked to fight," he said. "And 'Big Stoop' was from Minnesota ,or someplace, and they talked about him like he was Jack Dempsey. I was so scared in the corner I wet my pants. Then the bell rang. 'Big Stoop' was holding his hands like a girl. I punched him, knocked him down and then kicked him as the referee counted. You should have heard those Marines in my regiment cheering. I never saw 'Big Stoop' again."
Art Donovan was impressed with a visit from Baltimore Archbishop William Keeler.
"What a nice man," he said. "You can understand why he's an archbishop. Bishop William Newman brought him. Now that's another nice man. I'm really lucky to have such a hell of a lot of good friends."
With that, Art Donovan held up a glass of milk and drank it down. He's on the road to good health. All friends and admirers will drink to that.