Even in college, Donovan didn't go by the book

October 17, 1999|By JOHN STEADMAN

That Arthur J. Donovan was exposed to an avenue of higher academics at Boston College, under the jurisdiction of a faculty of Jesuits, considered among the most learned teachers in the world, served him with more value than he pretends.

Don't ever make the mistake that Art is a one-dimensional buffoon. His knowledge is extensive, but he prefers to obscure it. Kind of a shtick, as used to be said about vaudeville comedians.

Yesterday, at Boston College, his alma mater, he was thrilled to be part of an on-field ceremony in which his jersey was retired.

"Imagine that," he said. "Who the hell was I in college? But look at the way things turned out. I wore a lot of numbers I don't remember, but I think the last one was 63."

Donovan and his friends, even now, laugh sardonically at the recollection that he was relegated to second-team All-New England.

No All-America mentions and only one invitation to an all-star game. Since the other tackle at Boston College was Ernie Stautner, most of the attention went to him.

And the selectors, obviously wanting to give the All-New England team a diversification of schools, picked Irv Heller of Boston University ahead of Donovan for the first team.

Whatever happened to Irv Heller?

Donovan went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Even ahead of Stautner. The BC team, when Donovan was there, sent 14 players to pro football, yet its best season in his four years was 6-3 in 1946. Admittedly, it played a rock-hard schedule, with such teams as Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan State, Clemson, LSU, Wake Forest, Mississippi, Penn State, Oklahoma and traditional rival Holy Cross.

"Oklahoma was the only one that kicked hell out of us, 46-0, in our opener of 1949," he said.

"Because we were a Catholic school, we heard a lot of insults in the South but paid no mind. In 1947, we went to Tennessee and, checking into the hotel, a manager at the desk didn't want to take us.

"We had a dark-complexioned receiver named Arthur Cesario, a wonderful Italian fellow. The hotel thought he was black and didn't want us staying there. You should have heard the priest, Father Dullea [Rev. Maurice Dullea, S.J.], who was our faculty adviser, and how he handled it."

Before Boston College, Donovan had been twice to Notre Dame -- in 1942, when he left to fight in the Marines, and in 1946, when he came back from the battlefront. He quickly became fed up with the restrictions at Notre Dame and left -- much against his Irish mother's wishes.

"I think it was a guy named Jim Tharp who was holding me in practice, and I started swinging," Donovan said.

"The coach, Frank Leahy, wanted me to shake hands with Tharp, and I refused. I don't think Notre Dame wanted me. I came home and almost went to Brown University. I went up there the week before Joe Paterno entered."

Donovan had met a wealthy Brown benefactor, one Biz Arnold, who established the Arnold Foundation at Brown.

He handed Donovan $1,000 and told him to make sure the other potential players going to Brown on a trip had a good time.

But Arnold accompanied Donovan and the group and paid for everything. Arthur tried to give him back the $1,000, because he hadn't been able to spend it, but Arnold refused.

Instead, when Donovan told him he wanted to go to a Catholic college, Arnold arranged a meeting with a friend, Denny Myers, then head coach at BC, formerly an assistant at Brown, and handed Donovan another $1,000 and told him to spend it on three other veterans from World War II who were going to try to play football at BC under Myers.

"My mother insisted I give the money back, but Mr. Arnold wouldn't take it," Donovan said. "He said he wanted us to have a good time and not use our own money. It took us about 10 days to spend it all. What a time we had. Four guys back from the war and $2,000 to blow."

Donovan eventually got to Boston College and played four varsity seasons. But his first year, 1946, he was a substitute for Ed King, later to be a member with Donovan of the Colts of 1950. King also became governor of Massachusetts, the only former NFL player to do so.

"Eddie was one tough guy. Smart as they come," Donovan said. "Once, in practice, a bully-type guy was cheap-shotting him and Eddie had enough.

"He whipped that guy on the practice field before all us players and the priests watching from the sidelines. To know Eddie King and the deeply religious man he is makes me proud."

Donovan admits to not being a grade-A student, but says he learned by osmosis, just being around the intellects of his Jesuit teachers.

"I didn't do much studying," Donovan said. "My schedule was mapped out. I went to movies two nights a week, ate pizza and drank beer the other nights. On Friday, I was at the Lithuanian Hall and Saturdays at some place that had an Irish band."

He recalls a teammate, Ed "Butch" Songin, who once handled a test question when the teacher asked for a description of the Khyber Pass by saying, "I heard of the forward pass. I heard of the lateral pass. I even heard of the shovel pass. But you got me stuck on the Khyber Pass."

Boston College was a fun-filled experience. But, then again, Arthur J. Donovan has never been anywhere where he didn't see that a good time was had by all, including himself.

Pub Date: 10/17/99

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