Art Donovan was one of the finest defensive linemen of his day, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, but he was so much more. Donovan, the legendary former Baltimore Colt who died Sunday at the age of 88, also was one of the most well-liked players of all time.
The early reaction to his passing this weekend showed how much Donovan touched those who knew him.
Carl Eller, former Minnesota Vikings defensive end and fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer, told NFL Network's Stacey Dales at Sunday's Hall of Fame Game that the Art Donovan the public grew to know through his many commercials and talk show appearances in the 1980s and '90s was the same gregarious guy his teammates and opponents knew from his playing days.
"It's a great loss to the league. He was part of those teams with (Johnny) Unitas and Lenny Moore. And our careers just about crossed each other," Eller said. "Just was a great player was a hard worker. Was the kind of a guy I think his teammates got to know him personally and his antics and all of the stuff before the rest of the world did. The rest of the world learned that he really was a fun guy to be around, but he was a great tackle, a great player.
"... This has been a horrible year for us. We've lost some great guys. Guys that contributed to the game and really made the game and not just for their own play but for what they contributed to the game. And when you see guys like Art Donovan, Deacon Jones and (Steve Van Buren), Jack Butler, these guys are names."
Donovan was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications at the HOF, said that even among the giants of the game in Canton, Donovan was a special presence.
"One of the great, great players. Not only a great player, but a great person. Everybody loved him. Great sense of humor. Great human," Horrigan told Dales. "Art was also in the Marine Hall of Fame. He fought for his country in World War II -- distinguished himself there."
Horrigan talked about what Donovan meant to the Baltimore Colts organization.
"Art came to Baltimore in kind of an odd way. He came from the Dallas Texans, which went defunct. They went belly up and they ended up in Baltimore. Baltimore was looking for a football team back then in 1952. And they got this football team, and Art became this cornerstone along with a guy named Johnny Unitas a little bit later. Took them to that famous 1958 championship game. He was the first defensive character that the fans rallied around and loved. Even in his later years, he was a guest on late night talk shows. Just had this great personality. His father was a great boxing referee. He was a character, one of the true characters in sport."
"We lost a friend, one of the finest men and one of the greatest characters we were fortunate to meet in this community and in this business," Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. "Baltimore is now without one of its best and someone who was a foundation for the tremendous popularity of football in our area. The world is not as bright tonight because we lost someone who could make us all smile."
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted out his thoughts as well:
Art Donovan..RIP..what a colorful,big-hearted man n Baller! Tremendous contributor to early building of the greatest league n all of sportsâ Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) August 5, 2013
The Associated Press contributed to this story.