Friends and fellow food lovers, today we bring you one of Bawlamer’s greatest philosophers to guide us through our “Hour of Need.”
I speak of the late Art Donovan and of the approaching brand new year, which is the signal for half the country to look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “Time to knock off a few pounds.”
Every year we resolve to do this – to diet, work out, get serious about our weight for reasons of health and ego – and every year our resolve vanishes at the first sighting of a corned beef on rye.
Therefore, as a public service, I bring to you a few random thoughts from Donovan, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the old Baltimore Colts, No. 70 in your program but 270 in his not-so-lean-and-hungry playing days.
It was Donovan who collectively lost more weight (and, to be honest, usually gained it back), and with more at stake (it was written into his contract) than almost anybody.
The great man has been gone six years now, but he was always a delight when talking football or food. One time, we were talking about the psychological pressures arriving the night before a particularly big game.
“Could you sleep that night?” I asked.
“Me?” Donovan said. “Sure, I could sleep after 23 hot dogs.”
“No,” I said, “I mean from feeling nervous about …” Suddenly, it dawned on me. I was talking about emotional anxiety, and he was talking about hot dogs.
“You could eat 23 hot dogs in one sitting?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” Donovan said. “Hell, more than that. Kosher hot dogs, I could eat 15 of ‘em.”
“The kosher dogs had more meat in them?”
“Oh, yeah. The other dogs, it was like eatin’ peanuts.”
The last time I saw him, in his kitchen, he opened his refrigerator freezer and gazed longingly at shelves of the kosher dogs, which were his lifelong passion.
Also, his problem.
Donovan’s annual contract with the Colts required him to weigh no more than 270 pounds. Fridays were weigh-in day. So, 3 o’clock in the morning, defensive end Don Joyce would pick Donovan up, and they’d go to a steam room at Calvert and Saratoga and sit and shvitz until 10:30 in the morning.
He told the story so many times, it became a kind of comedy routine.
“We’d take a shower and go to the weigh-in,” Donovan said. “I’d step on the scale, and it’d say 275. I’d take off my sweat shirt and drop two pounds. My pants would be another pound and a half. I’d get down to 270-and-a-half by dropping my underwear. Still too much.
“So I’d take out my false teeth. Hey, I got onto that scale just the way I came into the world, no clothes, no teeth, no nothing.”
Once he got past the Friday weigh-in, he was OK to eat again.
“But you know,” he said, “you couldn’t eat meat on Friday if you were Catholic. So I’d buy a few pounds of Hebrew National deli, and I’d make sandwiches, and I’d sit in front of the TV set until midnight. And at the stroke of midnight, you never saw anybody tear into a plate of sandwiches like I did.”
Donovan and fellow Hall of Fame Colt Jim Parker (No. 77 in your program, and 275 on the scales) shared one method for weight loss, with only a slight variation.
Donovan would get into a rubber suit and hop into a whirlpool bath. Parker was more radical. On hot summer days when the Colts were training in Westminster, Parker would put on a rubber suit, get into his car and turn the heat all the way up. He’d drive around for an hour, and claimed he could lose up to eight pounds, if this didn’t kill him first.
“Anyway,” Donovan said, “that didn’t work after a while. When Jim locked himself into his car, he’d lock food in with him.”
The heaviest guys on the team would all starve themselves leading up to weigh-in days. Donovan said Big Daddy Lipscomb once had a whole turkey and sweet potato pie waiting in front of his locker when he got off the scale.
“You’re gonna eat yourself right out of the league,” Coach Weeb Ewbank scolded him. Lipscomb, who weighed 288, started to swing the whole thing at the coach. A couple of guys grabbed him.
“What are you doing?” Ewbank hollered.
“He was hungry,” explained Jim Parker, who understood Big Daddy’s pain.
As do we all.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.