Art Donovan, the former Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts, died on Sunday evening at age 89 from a respiratory ailment. He played in the NFL from 1950 to 1961, but his name probably has a different association for a generation that didn't see him play: as one of David Letterman's best-loved early guests.
Donovan appeared on Letterman 10 times in the 1980's, where he reprised the long, winding, funny stories he'd told for years on the speaker circuit, and earlier, on the bus to Colts games. Here's more from the Baltimore Sun obituary on Donovan:
"Dunnie had all of his stories numbered," said Alex Sandusky, a Colts teammate. "Going to games, he'd sit in the last seat on the bus, the widest one. That was our 'story room.' Then he'd say, 'This is number 46 coming up.'
"He was a classic — a great, fun-loving human being. If they can laugh in heaven, he'll get them going."
Update, Monday: In a statement emailed to the Atlantic Wire, a spokesperson passed along a statement from Dave Letterman on just how well-loved Donovan was by the show:
We always looked forward to Art coming on the show because he would not only tell a great story, he just made you happy he was there. He was always humble and self-effacing, a guy from a different era of professional football who could make anyone laugh. We will miss him.
This is Donovan, talking about his autobiography (which he freely admits that he didn't write, or even read). Asked whether he thinks people should buy it, Donovan says, "I guess so, yeah."
"In my first appearance," Donovan said in a Sports Illustrated piece years ago, "I was telling stories, and people were laughing, and everything was great. When we cut to a commercial, the guy says, 'Can you do another eight minutes?' I said, 'Hell, I can do eight months.'"